DOVER, Del. -- Coppin State hasn't suffered many losses worse than the one it endured last night.
The Eagles trailed by 17 points in the first half, rallied to lead by eight with 5:22 left, and then proceeded to hand Delaware State a 96-93 victory before 2,538 at Memorial Hall. The Hornets scored the game's final six points, as Coppin State committed three of its 21 turnovers in the final 25 seconds.
Coppin State (7-4 in conference) was losing for the third time in its last five Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference games. Delaware State (7-3 in the MEAC), which had an 11-game home winning streak ended Monday by South Carolina State, had lost to this same Eagles team by 23 in Baltimore last week, and Coppin coach Fang Mitchell was disturbed by the turn of events.
"The critical thing is the turnovers," Mitchell said. "I don't know what the problem is. We've been taking care of the ball all year long, and now we go through this. It might be a lack of concentration, but whatever, we've got to play smarter at the end of a game."
Coppin State appeared to finally have control of a foul-riddled contest, as the second half lasted more than an hour. The Eagles made 37 of 46 free throws and the Hornets 37 of 45. The home team had four players foul out, and seldom-used reserve Kareem Allen's only shot, with 23 seconds left, was the winning basket.
Coppin State took an 86-78 lead with 5:22 left on Tariq Saunders' drive, but the Eagles didn't get another basket, scoring their last seven points at the free-throw line. The Eagles had a 93-90 lead on two by Saunders with 1:06 left, but Hijr Sabree's two shaved the difference to one.
The shot clock was turned off with 42 seconds left when Coppin State restarted, but Saunders couldn't control a pass from James Mazyck with 25 seconds left. Two ticks later, Allen had hauled in a court-length baseball pass and converted what proved to be the winning basket despite a foul by Saunders.
With 15 seconds left, Darren Woods was stripped going up for a 12-footer, and after two final free throws by Roy Williams, the Eagles committed one last turnover while trying to free three-point threat Keith Carmichael.
Tyrone Boger led all scorers with 24 points, and the Hornets had five other players in double figures. The Eagles got 21 points and eight rebounds from Saunders, 18 and nine from Woods. Larry Yarbray had 17, Mazyck 14 and Carmichael 13, but it was all for naught, as the Eagles dropped from second place to fifth in the always-changing MEAC standings.
Sophomore center Coleman Scott sat out with a sore ankle that he injured in last week's romp over Delaware State, and the Eagles also were missing their shooting touch at the start, as they fell behind 29-12 with 8:26 left in the first half. The Hornets used a 16-0 run to overcome an early 10-6 deficit, but Carmichael, who didn't play in the first 13 minutes, hit three straight shots to spark an Eagles comeback that also included many of the Hornets' 27 turnovers.
Coppin State cut the difference to five late in the half, and used 13 straight points early in the second half to go up 56-52. Saunders' three-pointer from the right win completed that roll, and he had two baskets during another spurt that allowed the Eagles to overcome a 77-75 deficit. That 9-0 run appeared to give them breathing room, but Delaware State, which has gotten nine of its 10 wins in its home state, kept coming back.
Coppin State will try to bounce back Saturday at home against Florida A&M. It was the Rattlers who gave the Eagles the only loss in their recent memory more sour than last night's, as they eliminated top-seeded Coppin State in last year's MEAC semifinals.