Coppin awakens, tops Cookman, 73-61

January 26, 1993|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

The top of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference met the bottom last night and found a middle ground at the Coppin Center.

League-leading Coppin State, obviously looking forward to Thursday's showdown with Morgan, was flat at the onset and Bethune-Cookman, now winless in 14 straight games, was inspired.

But the Eagles had enough defensive prowess and three-point punch to pull safely away in the second half for a 73-61 victory.

The game was still tied when Coppin freshman Kyle Locke hit two straight three-pointers for a 53-47 lead. Bethune-Cookman (1-15, 0-7) was never closer than five the rest of the way.

"It sure didn't seem like they were focused," Coppin coach Fang Mitchell said of his team. "We weren't showing any emotion and we had to put a change in there."

Coppin (8-7, 5-0) fell behind 10-2, forcing Mitchell to call a timeout three minutes into the game. He followed that two minutes later by yanking the five starters and inserting an entirely new team.

Tariq Saunders was one of those off the bench and he responded with 10 of the next 13 Eagles points, nine from long range, to reverse the flow of the game.

With five minutes to go in the half, Coppin had pulled into a situation in which it was exchanging the lead on every basket.

"Our reports said Coppin doesn't start off too well," said Cy McClairen, the Wildcats' 31-year coach. "We were hoping to get enough cushion to make them play our way."

But Bethune-Cookman -- which has nine freshmen and sophomores on a 12-man roster -- has no Reggie Cunningham to ignite scoring flurries this year. Cunningham was the top scorer in the MEAC last season.

"We don't really have a bona fide scorer, so we have to pack it inside and keep plugging," said McClairen. "I thought we played a fine game considering it was our third in five days after an 18-hour bus ride."

Darrell Nash, an All-MEAC honorable mention, tried to compensate for Cunningham's loss with 25 points, but Coppin outscored the Wildcats 27-3 from three-point range and that -- plus a beefed-up defense after the break -- was the difference.

"We've got a lot of guys who can shoot the three," said Mitchell. "So, they've gotten freedom to do it. I'm not worried about them shooting threes if they're open and it's a good shot."

Bethune-Cookman hit 63 percent from the field in the first half, 34.8 percent in the second.

"It's always good when you're a defensive team on those nights when you're out of sync on offense," said Mitchell.

"Cookman wasn't going to die on us. This has always been a hard game because they're sandwiched between Florida A & M, which is tough on us, and Morgan."

Now, the Eagles will be playing to protect the MEAC lead against the cross-town rival, which was expected to be improved. Did Mitchell envision such a showdown?

"We realized Morgan was pretty good, but I worried about the maturity factor with us," he said. "But it became a thing in which this team has a will to win. It means a lot to them."

Saunders finished with 20 points and Locke 18 to lead Coppin, which has won six of its last seven games and is 5-1 at home.

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