Coppin holds off S.C. State Eagles win, 75-69, go 14-0 in MEAC

February 19, 1993|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

Maybe it was because the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season title already was wrapped up. Or perhaps it was because the Eagles had entered the game with a perfect league record.

Whatever the case, Coppin State looked nothing like the team that has dominated the MEAC this season despite last night's 75-69 win over second-place South Carolina State before 525 at the Coppin Center.

The Eagles improved to 15-9 overall and 14-0 in the MEAC with ZTC two regular-season games to go. But it was the Bulldogs (14-10, 8-5 in the MEAC) who walked off the court looking forward to a possible third meeting in the conference tournament.

"Now I feel like we can play with Coppin," said South Carolina State forward Cy Alexander. "Better offensive execution, and it's a closer ballgame. It's anybody's ballgame."

South Carolina State didn't feel that way after the first meeting, an 86-58 loss on their court on Jan. 7. But the Bulldogs, who had won three straight and six of their last seven going into last night, were able to feed off a Coppin effort that coach Fang Mitchell said "was just enough to win."

"I guess the problem is that when you hear congratulations enough, when you realize that maybe this part of the season is over, you don't come out as mentally ready as you should," Mitchell said. "The only problem is that we're playing the No. 2 team in the conference and they were trying to find something positive to come out of here with. And we allowed them to leave here with something positive."

Positive as in never folding after falling behind by 10 points early in the second half. The Bulldogs had played even in going into halftime trailing 33-32. Using a match-up zone that frustrated the Eagles early, and concentrating on limiting Coppin's three-point shooting, the Bulldogs had led by as many as four in the first half.

Each time Coppin looked to break the game open, the Bulldogs bouncedback, taking advantage of second-shot opportunities (South Carolina State had 38 rebounds -- 17 on the offensive end) and sloppy ball handling by Coppin.

Still, Coppin led 69-58 after Tariq Saunders hit one of two free throws with 2:03 left.

But the Bulldogs staged one last comeback, taking advantage of two turnovers during an 8-2 run that pulled them to within 71-66 with 1:02 left. The final points of the run came after Deon Murray hit a free throw following a technical foul on Coppin's Sidney Goodman.

"What happened at the end was totally ludicrous," Mitchell said of the turnovers and the technical foul. "Our players know they have to keep their mouths shut. That almost was a fatal mistake."

But it wasn't. The Bulldogs, who got the ball after Murray's free throw, were unable to cut the lead any further after Roger Bell missed a short jumper. And the Eagles scored the next four points from the free-throw line to increase the lead to 75-66 and hold on for the win.

In the end, Coppin, as has been the case all season, had too many weapons. In addition to Saunders' 17 points and eight rebounds, Michael Thomas scored 15 and Stephen Stewart added 13.

Abraham Williams scored 19 and Jackie Robinson 16 to lead South Carolina State, which with the loss fell into a second-place tie with Morgan State. Those two teams will meet at Morgan on Saturday.

"Hopefully, we'll bounce back," Alexander said. "This will be a big game for us."

For Mitchell, it was a disappointing effort. But still, he was pleased with the bottom line.

"Through all the problems, through all the turnovers, we still won a ballgame," Mitchell said. "One thing about our kids -- they have a tendency to respond when they know they're wrong. I'll look at where we go from this point."

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