Coppin thumps N.C. A&T, 66-51

February 24, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

It's only fitting that visiting teams at Coppin Center dress in a steamy, cramped room marked "Laundry."

For the Coppin State Eagles have hung a lot of conference rivals out to dry the past two seasons while stretching their Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference winning streak to 33.

North Carolina A&T became the latest victim last night. Five weeks ago in Greensboro, the Aggies gave the Eagles their toughest conference test this season before losing by four. This time, Coppin, behind junior forward Stephen Stewart (17 points), took control early in the second half and coasted to a 66-51 victory, holding the Aggies (10-13, 7-6) 13 points below their season scoring average.

The victory stretched the nation's longest winning streak to 14 and Coppin's home streak to 21. But A&T coach Jeff Capel was hesitant to praise the defending MEAC champion.

"They're certainly the best team in our league," Capel said. "They're a lot of talk, but they back it up. But they can be beat, and I'd like the opportunity to play them for the title in the conference tourney."

Capel all but labeled Coppin a one-man team in Stewart, a 6-foot-5 swingman who crammed 15 of his game-high 17 points into the second half after picking up two quick fouls and sitting out most of the first half.

"Stewart is a real tough match for us," Capel said. "He's got the bulk and quickness to beat his defender inside, but if you back off him, he'll burn you with a three-point shot."

But, as Coppin coach Fang Mitchell said, his team led 35-25 at halftime with Stewart relegated to the bench.

"Our offense was lethargic tonight, maybe because we've been running suicide drills in practice at 10 in the morning," Mitchell said with a malevolent grin. "But we did the job defensively."

The Eagles were at their defensive best in pressuring the ball and rotating to the open man in the first eight minutes of the second half. They limited the Aggies to three field goals and took a 48-30 lead. Stewart scored nine during that time.

Capel blamed his team's erratic shooting rather than crediting Coppin's defense.

"They aren't the best defensive team in the league, that's for sure," he said.

"We might have been a little flat because we came in here expecting a big crowd and a lot of excitement over a team that's won 32 straight in the MEAC. Instead, they had about 1,000 people [actually 750] and that's counting popcorn vendors."

Was it sour grapes?

"They say we can't do this or that, but we keep on winning," Mitchell said. "Yeah, we're beatable, but as long as we play consistent defense, it will be tough to beat us."

Coppin has clinched the regular-season title and has only road games against Maryland Eastern Shore and Delaware State remaining. But the Eagles stay focused.

"We're not guaranteed an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament," Stewart said. "We've still got our biggest goals ahead of us."

But before they tackle UMES in Princess Anne on Saturday, Mitchell blessed his streaking Eagles with a day free of practice today.

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