Regardless of what happens to Coppin State at the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament later this week, March can't be any more troublesome for the Eagles than February was.
Coppin State, which was sitting atop the MEAC standings in late January, completed the regular season with a 70-67 loss to North Carolina A&T before 2,970 homecoming fans at the Coppin Center last night.
It was the sixth setback in nine February games for the Eagles, and the victories came over Morgan State, Bethune-Cookman and UMES, the conference's three weakest teams. The Eagles, who are 15-12 overall, finished in a three-way tie for fourth place in the MEAC with a 9-7 mark.
They'll play South Carolina State in Thursday's MEAC semifinals in Norfolk, Va. North Carolina A&T, (18-8, 12-4) is seeded second behind Howard, and will open the tournament against Morgan State.
Coppin State has been hampered by a run of injuries the likes of which Fang Mitchell hasn't dealt with in his 14 years in coaching. Sophomore swingman James Mazyck, who missed four of the past five games with a sprained ankle, had a chance to force a tie at 69, but he missed two free throws with four seconds left.
North Carolina A&T, which was handing veteran coach Don Corbett the 400th victory of his collegiate career, got what proved to be the winning basket with 34 seconds left, when Dana Elliott got open on the right baseline and put the Aggies up 69-67. Bobby Moore made one of two free throws after Mazyck's misses, and Tariq Saunders' potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer was off.
"We have enough experience in these situations to know what to do," Mitchell said. "When you get down to it, we've just got to buckle down and play harder, and that didn't happen. I have trouble with them scoring the winning basket on an open lay-in."
North Carolina A&T committed 11 second-half turnovers, but the Aggies beat Coppin State's full-court pressure enough to make 54 percent (27-50) of their field-goal attempts.
They were led by forward Jamaine Williams, a conference first-team All-Star, who finished with 22 points. The sophomore transfer from Morgan State made all six of his shots in the first half.
Elliott heated up after a cold first half to finish with 12 points, Moore had 11 and sophomore forward Thomas Garner had 10 and eight rebounds.
The Eagles were boosted by the return of senior forward Darren Woods, who had 17 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Playing for the first time since suffering a knee injury Feb. 5 at Delaware State, Woods got Coppin State its final tie at 67 with 58 seconds left. Mazyck was 1-for-6 from the field, and freshman guard Keith Carmichael, another player coming off the injured list, was 0-for-7 from three-point range.
"At least we got everyone back in the stable," Mitchell said. "It was necessary to have those guys play. We couldn't go to the tournament and try to integrate those guys there."
NORTH CAROLINA A&T -- Williams 8-12 6-6 22, Elliott 5-12 0-0 12, Garner 5-9 0-2 10, Allen 3-4 3-3 9, Cheeley 1-3 0-0 2, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Forte 1-2 0-0 2, Moore 3-6 4-7 11, Spady 1 -2 0-0 2, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-50 13-18 70.
COPPIN STATE -- Johnson 4-6 0-1 8, Saunders 5-11 4-6 17, Howard 0-0 0-0 0, Yarbray 6-10 3-3 15, Goodman 2-7 0-2 5, Carmichael 0-8 0-0 0, Mazyck 1-6 2-6 5, Woods 7-13 3-4 17, Massey 0-1 0-0 0, Scott 0-0 0-0 0, Dickerson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-64 12-22 67.
Halftime--North Carolina A&T 36, Coppin State 27. Three-point goals--NCAT 3-7 (Elliott 2-4, Moore 1-2, Allen 0-1), CSC 5-18 (Saunders 3-6, Goodman 1-2, Mazyck 1-2, Carmichael 0-7, Dickerson 0-1). Rebounds--NCAT 35 (Garner 8), CSC 36 ( Woods 13). Assists--NCAT 14 (Cheeley and Moore 3), CSC 14 (Goodman 4). Total fouls--NCAT 22, CSC 20. Fouled out--Williams. A--2,970.