Coppin State clinches share of MEAC title, 93-70

February 14, 1993|By David Lee Simmons | David Lee Simmons,Contributing Writer

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Coppin State moved one step closer to clinching first place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference last night, taking a 93-70 victory over Florida A&M at the Gaither Athletic Center.

Kyle Locke and Stephen Stewart scored 22 points apiece and Tariq Saunders scored 17 of his 20 points in the first half during a three-point shooting spree by the Eagles, who secured at least a tie for first place in the conference.

Coppin State improved to 15-7 overall and remained undefeated in the MEAC at 12-0. The Eagles have four conference games remaining, including tomorrow at last-place Bethune-Cookman. A victory there would clinch first place.

Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell didn't see much importance in the win -- at least no more than usual.

"Every win is important," said Mitchell, whose team has held MEAC opponents to 70 points or less in all but one game this season. "I'm not looking at the importance of being in first place. There is no bye [in the MEAC tournament]. Either way, we have to play a tough team in the first round."

That team could be Florida A&M (5-16, 5-7), which is battling with Howard and Delaware State to avoid becoming one of the MEAC's two bottom teams. Bethune-Cookman appears headed for one of those positions. The two bottom teams will face each other in a "play-in" game when MEAC tournament begins March 4 in Norfolk, Va.

Coppin State, meanwhile, is heading in the other direction, playing its best basketball since winning the MEAC title in 1990. The Eagles displayed their trademark balanced scoring, highlighted by Saunders' outside shooting, and kept Florida A&M from getting into any kind of offensive rhythm.

Mitchell continued his strategy of bringing Saunders, the team's leading scorer, off the bench.

"We try to get a lot of balanced scoring with our team," Mitchell said. "It's been successful this far, so why mess with success?"

Coppin State won its ninth game in a row and completed a two-game sweep of the Rattlers, including a 69-63 win in Baltimore on Jan. 23. That game was much closer, as the Eagles shot only 32 percent.

Florida A&M appeared ready to make another run, cutting Coppin State's lead to 55-51 with 14:19 left when Copeland Jackson scored a layup off his steal. But after a timeout, the Eagles went on an 18-6 run for a 73-57 lead.

"I just told them we had to become a lot more aggressive," said Mitchell.

Florida A&M wasted a gutsy performance by returning MEAC Most Valuable Player DeLon Turner, who scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

Also, Florida A&M shot 50 percent but committed 24 turnovers, compared with nine for Coppin State.

Coppin State used a three-point shooting barrage to rip open Florida A&M's zone defense in the first half, good for a 44-36 lead that could have been worse except for a five-minute dry spell in the latter part of the half.

Saunders hit the second of his four first-half three-pointers for a 16-9 lead with 14:42 left. Florida A&M cut the lead to 23-21 on Turner's three-pointer and a free throw by Ibn Pitts, but could not take control.

Saunders hit another three-pointer and Stewart made two free throws to push the lead back up to 28-22.

"We average about seven three-pointers a game," Mitchell said. "If you give it to us, we'll make them. But I would say that's the best we've shot from three-point range."

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