Coppin State needed overtime to put away South Carolina State in their first meeting this season, and in last night's rematch at the Coppin Center, the Eagles nearly ran out of players before finishing the job.
But in the final two minutes, with South Carolina State bearing down on the nation's longest home winning streak behind a superb performance by forward Derrick Patterson, Coppin State overcame the Bulldogs and major foul trouble by scoring the last six points to earn a 78-70 victory.
The victory, Coppin State's 14th straight and 30th consecutive at home -- both the longest streaks in the country -- clinched the Eagles' third straight regular-season Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title, and fifth in the past six years. It also guarantees Coppin State (17-8, 13-2) the top seed at the MEAC tournament, which begins next week.
"This was a real team situation," said Coppin coach Fang Mitchell. "We expected a dogfight. South Carolina State has a real nice team, and Patterson had a great game. I just feel good about the way we kept our composure down the stretch. This was a good, tough game for us to play before the tournament."
The Eagles have gone 46-1 against the MEAC during the regular season the past three years. They wind up the regular season Saturday at Morgan State, where Coppin State will return for the conference tournament five days later.
Last night before 1,734, Coppin State had to survive foul trouble, as three players, including guard Sidney Goodman and center Michael Thomas, had four personals over the final seven minutes. The Eagles also had to withstand a 34-point effort from Patterson, who kept South Carolina State (14-11, 11-4) in the game and led them on a 12-4 run that pulled the Bulldogs to within 72-70 with 2:25 left.
But the Eagles showed the resourcefulness that has been one of their trademarks under Mitchell. While senior forward Stephen Stewart (23 points, 13 rebounds) labored to keep the Eagles in the lead, senior forward Tariq Saunders, a spot starter, gave Coppin State a crucial lift.
First, Saunders converted a layup to end the Bulldogs' run and give the Eagles a 74-70 lead with 2:11 left. Then, Saunders rebounded a three-point miss by the Bulldogs. Next, after grabbing an air ball by Patterson, he converted both ends of a one-and-one to make it 76-70 with 49 seconds to go. Finally, Saunders came out to block a three-point attempt by forward Desi McQueen.
Saunders finished with 11 points, including 10 in the second half.
The Eagles also got a boost from reserve center Mario McGriff. He came off the bench to score 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds in 16 minutes.
"With all of the things that went wrong, with all of the people we didn't get good games from, even with all of that, we were still successful," Mitchell said.
Foul trouble nearly doomed the Eagles, who were hit with 22 personals. That stalled the Eagles, after they had broken a 31-31 tie to go up at the half, 36-31. Coppin State then extended its lead to 63-49 midway through the second half.