Mitchell won't let Coppin State let up

KEN ROSENTHAL

February 09, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

It was the biggest local college game of the year, and security was so tight, Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell got frisked as he entered Hill Fieldhouse.

"I'm being treated nice already," he told Morgan coach Michael Holmes, doubling over in laughter.

"I told them -- 'Check him first!' " Holmes jokingly replied.

Check him?

Holmes should have put Mitchell under house arrest.

The showdown between the top two teams in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference drew 5,290 fans, but the Morgan faithful began leaving midway through the first half.

So much for the home-court edge: Coppin led 11-0 after three minutes, 48-23 at halftime and 88-74 at game's end. So much for the hot new rivalry: Coppin has beaten Morgan twice by a combined 40 points.

Indeed, it's hard to believe Coppin was picked to finish seventh in a preseason vote by MEAC coaches and publicity directors. Coppin is now 10-0 in the conference, Morgan 7-3.

The question is, will Coppin sustain its momentum through March, survive the frenzied MEAC tournament in Norfolk, Va., and return to the NCAAs?

This team might not be as talented as the Larry Stewart-led clubs that finished 25-7 and 19-11 in 1990 and '91, but it shoots better from the outside, and is far superior off the bench.

Coppin got eight straight points from reserve guard Marcus Robinson in the first half, and six straight from reserve forward Tariq Saunders to push the lead to 19 immediately after that.

That's when the fans started leaving.

But the Coppin coaches didn't let up.

"I'm tired of hearing, 'My fault!' " assistant Nate Blackwell screamed late in the first half, with Coppin leading by 20.

The second half began with a 6-2 run by Morgan.

Mitchell was so aggravated, he called timeout.

"Don't throw this game away, fellas," he bellowed in the huddle. "Do you understand what is going on right now? Do you understand?"

Later, he flipped again.

"Can we play defense? Can we?" he yelled at sophomore forward Stephen Stewart. "Am I going to talk to myself? Recognize where the shooters are!"

None of this is new, but it goes a long way toward explaining why a team with four juniors, six sophomores and four freshmen is the class of its league.

Morgan is 7-3 since its 0-9 start, but it can't play with Coppin. Last night was nothing. The first meeting featured a 36-point swing, after Morgan led by 10 in the first half.

"Another whipping," Holmes said.

The difference isn't just on the court. Hard as it is to believe, Holmes works with even fewer resources than Mitchell, because Morgan maintains a football program, and Coppin does not.

Start with the team locker room at Hill. No carpet. No posters. No color TVs. Actually, it's not even a locker room. It's a rifle range in the basement of Hill.

Holmes has only one full-time assistant coach. Mitchell has two. Holmes is required to teach health classes in addition to running a Division I program. Mitchell is not.

Why, Holmes can't even get regular practice times, because he shares Hill with the women's team, the indoor track team and the cheerleading squad.

Sometimes, he even sweeps the floor before games.

Such is life for coaches at historically black colleges, but if Morgan is smart, it will show Holmes more of a commitment. Indeed, school president Earl Richardson said that is the plan.

"We are at a point now where for the first time we're beginning to have a feel for this thing," said Holmes, who is 21-55 in his three years at Morgan.

"Coppin State has been in this situation three or four times. We've always been down in the standings. This is the first time we're in the hunt. It's a good feeling."

Still, it's not enough. Three Morgan starters played with the flu last night, but Holmes -- like so many of his MEAC counterparts -- was just another coach left bleeding by Fang.

True to form, Mitchell aired out his players one last time afterward, infuriated that Coppin gave up 51 second-half points, when opponents are averaging 66 per game.

"What's to be happy about?" Mitchell asked. "We're striving to learn. We get somebody down, and we make 'em look like they played well."

Not exactly, Fang.

Not quite.

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