Coppin dunked out of Big Dance, 66-64 N. Carolina A&T takes MEAC title in final seconds

March 05, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

Coppin State spent a year preparing for this game, craving the moment when it would erase last year's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament collapse.

And after amassing the nation's longest winning streak, blitzing the MEAC again during the regular season and rolling through the tournament's first two rounds, the top-seeded Eagles appeared poised to taste their reward -- a third trip to the NCAA tournament.

But in the closing minutes of yesterday's MEAC tournament title game, before 5,116 at Morgan State and a national television audience, No. 3 seed North Carolina A&T showed Coppin-like poise and brought the Eagles' season to a crushing close with a 66-64 victory.

Aggies center John Floyd was at both ends of the final curtain. First, he followed a crucial Coppin State turnover by banking in a game-tying, 12-foot fadeaway shot with 39 seconds left. Then, after Eagles guard Keith Carmichael missed a go-ahead, three-point attempt, Floyd took a perfect bounce pass from teammate Phillip Allen, dribbled 25 feet and delivered his biggest dunk of the season with six seconds left to give the Aggies the stunning win.

Coppin State's season ended with senior forward Stephen Stewart dribbling desperately across half-court, losing control of the ball and dishing off to guard Sidney Goodman, who was stripped of the ball as he tried to get off a last-second shot. The Eagles also elected not to use their final timeout.

The Aggies (15-14), the last team to beat Coppin State (20-9) before yesterday, won their second straight MEAC title and earned an automatic trip to the NCAAs for first-year coach Roy Thomas. They did it in championship style, by coming from 13 points down in the first half to pull within two at the break, then by never leading in the second half until the end.

They also broke the Eagles' 17-game winning streak and sent Coppin State's seniors to the Hill Field House floor, where they remained sprawled for several minutes in disbelief. The seniors then scattered to various corners of the building.

"This is not real. This is not real," said Goodman, who declined to comment further in the locker room.

"I'm still in shock," said forward Tariq Saunders, who sat alone near a stairwell after the best weekend of his final season ended abruptly. "This is the moment I've waited for, but A&T hustled more than us. They were more aggressive at the end of the game. The last five minutes, we had a few turnovers and didn't put it together. I don't know what happened."

What happened was the Eagles, after taking care of the ball with precision in their previous two games, failed to protect it against the Aggies' trapping defense throughout a sloppy second half, and especially after they had taken a 61-56 lead with 2:45 to go on a three-point play by senior forward Stewart (12 points, eight rebounds).

The Aggies cut the lead to 61-59 at the foul line, then tied the score when Tyrone Brice stole an inbounds pass and fed Allen for a layup to tie it at 61 with 1:41 left.

Goodman, who burned the Aggies two weeks ago for 33 points during an 80-60 rout, answered by burying a three-pointer from the top of the key to give the Eagles a 64-61 lead with 1:21 to go. Thirty seconds later, with the Eagles up 64-62, he committed a costly turnover when he threw an errant bounce pass to Stewart in the lane. Aggies forward Anthony Jones knocked the pass away and saved it, setting up Floyd's dramatic, game-tying shot.

Carmichael then launched a three-point attempt off the front of the rim with 12 seconds left and nearly as much time left on the shot clock.

"Maybe that wasn't the shot I wanted at that time, but I can't look at that one shot," said Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell. "There were so many times during the game where we didn't do the right things. You have to do the little things.

"We gave up too many easy baskets. We were always one possession away from winning the game. We might have been overcautious taking care of the ball. I feel real badly for the seniors. Sometimes in life, you do the things you're supposed to do and still don't come out on the positive end."

The Eagles did everything but put the Aggies away, which no one else could do. North Carolina A&T won all three of its tournament games after trailing by double digits, including an overtime victory against No. 6 seed Howard in the quarterfinals.

Behind Saunders -- who scored 55 tournament points on 13-for-17 three-point shooting and hit three threes in the opening minutes yesterday -- the Eagles seemed to be in control after taking a 22-9 lead with 9:35 left in the first half. But the Aggies, who committed nine turnovers in the first nine minutes, capitalized on the foul trouble of Coppin State senior center Michael Thomas and junior forward Mario McGriff by staging a 19-4 run over the next six minutes to take a 28-26 lead.

Floyd started and ended that run with three-point plays, and the Aggies charged back into contention with Allen, their leading scorer, on the bench.

Coppin State rebounded to take a 34-32 halftime lead. The Eagles then opened a 49-40 lead midway through the second half, but the Aggies went to a trapping defense that forced most of Coppin State's 12 second-half turnovers, and Allen reasserted himself at the offensive end. His steal and layup cut the Eagles' lead to 49-47. His off-balance three-point shot cut their lead to 55-54, and his two free throws sliced it to 58-56 with 3:58 left.

NOTE: Coppin State seniors Goodman, Stewart and Saunders were named to the all-tournament first team. In three games, Goodman scored 49 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Stewart had 45 points and 26 rebounds. Saunders scored 55 points.

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