Coppin still stunned by NIT snub

March 16, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

The shock of losing to Morgan State in the quarterfinals of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament had barely faded, when a follow-up punch stunned Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell.

After the Eagles' 61-60 defeat at Morgan State, Mitchell knew Coppin State had no chance to make the NCAA tournament. The Eagles, despite their 16-0 regular-season showing against the MEAC, had lost when it counted most. Since the MEAC stood 32nd among 33 conferences in the Ratings Percentage Index -- which measures the strengths of conferences and individual teams -- only the MEAC's postseason winner would go to the national tournament by virtue of an automatic bid.

Still, Mitchell figured the Eagles were not finished playing. Surely, a bid to the National Invitation Tournament was forthcoming.

But the Eagles never got a call. And Mitchell cannot get over it.

"We had disappointment at Morgan State. I can accept that. But the NIT situation has got me discouraged," Mitchell said. "We had a 16-game winning streak, the longest in the nation. Then, we lost a one-point game to a team [Morgan State] on its home floor, and we went from a team that nobody wanted to play in the NCAAs to oblivion.

"Only three teams in the country finished undefeated in their conference, and everyone was taken care of [invited to national tournaments] but Coppin. The players couldn't believe it when I told them we didn't get in [to the NIT]. I felt so bad walking by the gym and seeing Stephen Stewart shooting by himself.

"Here is a bunch of young people who worked their butts off for four months, and for what? This shock is equivalent to the Morgan beating. We got it twice this week."

Mitchell says that the Eagles had the necessary credentials for an NIT bid. Their perfect regular season against the MEAC included a victory margin average of 18 points. Their tough December schedule included a one-point loss to Missouri -- the topseed in the NCAA tournament's West Regional -- a two-point loss to Virginia and close losses to Pittsburgh and Oklahoma.

"There are quality wins, and there are quality losses. Coppin State had a lot of quality losses," said John Powers, the NIT's executive director. "If they had beaten one of those teams in December, it probably would have knocked them into the tournament. Coppin was one of the last teams we took off of the board."

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