Coppin State basketball coach Fang Mitchell keeps sending his players some very noticeable messages.
All-time assist leader Larry Yarbray, the only senior starter, was suspended for three games last month. The Eagles returned from a five-day vacation a week ago today not in the mood to practice, so another senior was dismissed and sophomore captain James Mazyck was suspended for five games.
Mitchell's latest missive was fired off last night, before the Eagles defeated South Carolina State, 86-74, in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opener for both teams at the Coppin Center. Some familiar faces forged the victory with a 15-2 spurt in the first five minutes of the second half, but even die-hard fans needed a media guide to acquaint themselves with the Coppin State starters.
"I'm starting the people I'm happy with," Mitchell said. "It's an entirely different unit tonight."
It included three players who weren't on the Coppin State roster last week. Sophomore center Coleman Scott and freshman guard Marcus Robinson are transfer students who weren't eligible during the fall semester. Two other first-year Eagles, sophomore forward Lennox Brown and junior forward Cleon Dickerson, were also on the floor at the start along with Yarbray.
Sufficiently chastened, regulars who helped Coppin State to four wins in its first six games came off the bench and put together maybe the Eagles' best stretch of the season.
South Carolina State got numerous easy baskets in the first half en route to a 42-37 lead. Coppin State scored the first eight points of the second half, however, and another run of seven straight points gave the Eagles a 52-44 lead with 15:07 remaining. Freshman guard Keith Carmichael had seven points during the turnaround.
South Carolina State, picked to finish ahead of the Eagles in the MEAC, gathered itself during an 8-0 rally that created a tie at 59 with 10 minutes remaining, but Coppin State finished in positive fashion. Ahead 73-72 with 3:10 remaining, the Eagles got a three-point play from Tariq Saunders and four power points from Darren Woods for an 80-72 spread inside two minutes.
Woods had a career-high 19 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Saunders had 14 points, and Carmichael and Yarbray had 11 apiece. Saunders and Carmichael were among those benched at the start by Mitchell, who wasn't pleased with either of the Eagles' practice sessions last Friday and some of their workouts since.
"Don't come to Coppin State and complain about being worked hard," Mitchell said. "They know what this place is about before they get here."
Mitchell, who now has nine first-year players on his roster, will continue to give quality minutes to Scott, a 6-8 sophomore out of Oakland Mills High who first attended George Washington. He played 20 minutes in his collegiate debut, getting seven points and seven rebounds.
South Carolina State got 24 and 21 points, respectively, from forwards Chris Felix and Jackie Robinson.