Coppin sees title as just beginning Top seed is nice, but NCAAs is goal

February 17, 1993|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

For Coppin State basketball coach Fang Mitchell, it was business as usual as the final buzzer sounded on Monday's 89-65 win at Bethune-Cookman. Neither Mitchell nor his team even realized that with the win they had clinched the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season championship.

"I had no idea until the reporter came up afterward and told me," Mitchell said last night. "That's when I had to put my calculator into effect -- we're four games up with three games to go and. . ."

It all means that Coppin (16-7, 13-0 MEAC) will get the top seed when the conference tournament begins on March 5 at The Scope in Norfolk, Va. But there was little celebrating among the Eagles.

"We're happy to win it," Mitchell said. "But this is just the beginning."

That's because, for Coppin State, real success is measured by winning the conference tournament and getting the MEAC's automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Even if the Eagles, who were picked seventh in the preseason, stay unbeaten in the conference, the season won't be deemed a success unless the team comes from Norfolk with a tournament title.

Mitchell knows the empty feeling. Two seasons ago with current Washington Bullet Larry Stewart and high-scoring guard Reggie Isaac leading the way, Coppin dominated the regular season and won the top seed. But the Eagles lost to Florida A&M in the semifinals, denying Coppin its second straight trip to the NCAAs.

"We realize that we have a long way to go," Mitchell said. "So I don't think that just because we won the regular season that people are going to change their outlook."

It was a fatigued Coppin team that arrived home from Daytona Beach, Fla., yesterday afternoon. The Eagles flew into Tallahassee on Friday and beat Florida A&M on Saturday to clinch at least a share of the conference championship. But because of the Daytona 500 auto race, the Eagles were unable to get a hotel in Daytona Beach for the Bethune-Cookman game and were forced to drive nearly five hours on Monday for the game that night.

"I had some concerns on how we would respond because that's unusual for us," Mitchell said. "We're used to going to the place we're playing to practice, and we were unable to do that."

But Coppin won in a rout, getting 24 points from Stephen Stewart and 13 from Michael Thomas. Coppin was able to shoot 65 percent from the field in the second half against Bethune-Cookman, which won its only MEAC game of the season on Saturday against Morgan State.

"This is just a part of what happens when you work hard and you're dedicated to the game," Mitchell said. "I'm just glad that the school is getting some recognition. So far I'm happy in what we've accomplished. But we still have a lot to get done."

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