NORFOLK, Va. -- Before Coppin State met South Carolina State in the quarterfinals of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament yesterday, Eagles coach Fang Mitchell said that one of the factors the game hinged on was how the Bulldogs dealt with his team's pressure defense.
At times, the Bulldogs operated as if Coppin State weren't there. South Carolina State went over, around and through an assortment of ineffective Eagles defensive sets to record a 98-91 victory at the Norfolk Scope. It was the highest point total Coppin State has allowed an MEAC opponent in the past three years. The Bulldogs made 61.8 percent (34-for-55) of their field-goal attempts and 92.9 percent (26-for-28) of their free throws.
"We were letting people go by us," said Mitchell, who was denied the 100th victory of his six-year stay at Coppin State. "We're the best free-throw shooting team in the conference, and we missed free throws [10 of 27]. We also turned the ball over too many times [15 in the first half]. If I say more than two things negative after a game, I'm in trouble."
"We're a doughnut team. We've got nothing in the middle, and we've been trying to overcome that all year."
Coppin State, which had advanced at least as far as the semifinals in its first three MEAC tournament appearances and was the champion two years ago, finished at 15-13. South Carolina State, 14-14 overall, will play Howard, a 58-54 winner over Bethune-Cookman, in today's 6 p.m. semifinal.
The Bulldogs had hit 73.1 percent (19-for-26) of their shots in the second half when they made their only three-point attempt. The half began with Mitchell forgoing the feast-or-famine full-court pressure that his small team used all season. Yesterday was one time it didn't work. During the season, Coppin State foes made 49.8 percent of their shots.
Against a more compact Coppin State defense, the Bulldogs still thrived inside and took a 65-53 lead on junior forward Jackie Robinson's basket with 7:58 remaining. Using five perimeter players, only one taller than 6 feet 3, the Eagles forced several of the Bulldogs' 22 turnovers and cut the difference to 85-80 on Sidney Goodman's three-point play with 2:48 left.
South Carolina State answered every Coppin State charge, however, continuing its strong play during the second half of the season.
South Carolina State and Coppin State changed directions during the past five weeks and finished tied for fourth in the MEAC with 9-7 records. The injury-riddled Eagles, who were at full strength yesterday, dropped seven of their last 10 games. The Bulldogs are 11-4 since beginning the season 3-10, a start that included an 86-74 loss at Coppin State on Jan. 2.
"We had our entire team for only two of our first 13 games," coach Cy Alexander said. "We had injuries, family problems, disciplinary problems, but we put them aside."
Chris Felix, a senior forward from Washington, D.C., and the only South Carolina State player left from its 1989 MEAC title team, had 23 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field, 6-for-6 at the line. Robinson and fellow junior forward Donald Fogle combined for 38 points and 18 rebounds.
Sophomore swingman James Mazyck led Coppin State with 25 points. Sophomore forward Tariq Saunders had 23 points, hitting seven of 11 from the field and seven of eight at the line, and junior Michael Johnson, who started in a three-guard lineup, had 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Top-seeded Howard, South Carolina State's semifinal foe, received a major scare in its tournament opener. The Bison, who got 19 points from Milan Brown, were tied with Bethune-Cookman with a minute to play.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE -- Fogle 8-9 2-3 18, Felix 9-15 3-3 24, J.Robinson 7-11 6-6 20, Faust 2-4 7-7 11, Toatley 2-5 3-4 7, Higginbotham 0-2 2-2 2, Murray 5-7 3-3 14, Williams 1-1 0-0 2, Scott 0-1 0-0 0, Lucas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-55 26-28 98.
COPPIN STATE -- Johnson 5-8 1-4 11, Saunders 7-11 7-8 23, Woods 3-7 0-2 6, Yarbray 4-10 1-2 9, Goodman 2-2 1-1 6, Carmichael 4-8 0-0 11, Mazyck 8-17 7-10 25, M.Robinson 0-0 0-0 0, Massey 0-0 0-0 0, Scott 0-0 0-0 0, Dickerson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-63 17-27 91.
Halftime--S. Carolina St. 40-34. 3-Point goals--S. Carolina St. 4-8 (Felix 3-5, Faust 0-1, Murray 1-2), Coppin St. 8-20 (Johnson 0-1, Saunders 2-4, Goodman 1-1, Carmichael 3-7, Mazyck 2-7). Fouled out--J.Robinson, Saunders, Yarbray. Rebounds--S. Carolina St. 32 (J.Robinson, Fogle 9), Coppin St. 27 (Johnson 8). Assists--S. Carolina St. 16 (Faust 6), Coppin St. 18 (Carmichael -- 4). Total fouls--S. Carolina St. 22, Coppin St. 24. A--1,100.