PHILADELPHIA -- Coppin State celebrated its return to the National Invitation Tournament last night with a bang, and the Eagles didn't even wait for the tip-off. Junior center Mario McGriff shattered a backboard with a pre-game dunk, causing an 85-minute delay at St. Joseph's Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
But the Eagles were just getting warmed up.
After spotting the favored Atlantic 10 Conference Hawks a couple of 10-point leads in the first half, Coppin State shook off some early shooting woes and shattered the Hawks' season.
Keith Carmichael hit a three-point basket with 23 seconds left in overtime, and Sidney Goodman added three free throws in the final 11 seconds, as Coppin State pulled off a 75-68 upset before 2,543.
The victory sends Coppin State (21-9) -- which won its first postseason game ever outside its conference tournament -- into the round of 16 on Monday or Tuesday. The Eagles will face the winner of today's St. John's-South Florida game.
The victory also touched off a wild celebration. Coppin State's fans, some of whom traveled to Philadelphia by bus from Baltimore and others who know the Eagles from their hometowns in Philly or nearby South Jersey, piled onto the court and bowled over most of the team at half-court.
"When you come in and play a St. Joe's, you understand the
tradition here and how tough it is to get a win out of here. I'm real proud of our young people," said Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell, who celebrated a homecoming of sorts.
Mitchell is from Philadelphia, and does the bulk of his recruiting in the area. "It took us nine years to get a game in Philly. It will probably take nine years for somebody here to invite us back."
The evening brought redemption for Carmichael, whose last three-point shot fell short in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title game 12 days ago, when Coppin State lost, 66-64, to North Carolina A&T, losing a trip to the NCAA tournament in the process.
After missing six of eight shots, Carmichael (11 points) got hot in overtime last night. He started Coppin State's 16-point overtime with a three-pointer to give the Eagles a 62-59 lead, and the Eagles never trailed after that.
St. Joe's (17-12) cut the lead to 69-68 on an 18-footer by Mark Bass (18 points) with 34.7 seconds left, but Carmichael answered with a three-pointer from the corner 11 seconds later to make it 72-68. Goodman then finished the Hawks at the free-throw line.
Coppin State didn't take the lead until 2:06 remained in regulation, when Goodman hit a pull-up jumper in the lane to give the Eagles a 57-56 lead.
The lead changed hands twice after that, before Reggie Townsend, who led St. Joe's with 19 points and nine rebounds, made a foul shot with 9.5 seconds left to tie the score at 59.
He missed his second free throw, however, and Goodman rebounded and called timeout with 6.4 seconds left in regulation. Goodman then was stripped in the lane as he drove for a possible game-winning shot. Time expired, setting up the sweetest five minutes of Coppin State's season.
Besides Mitchell and Carmichael, the evening also was extra special for Goodman and Stephen Stewart, who have been the team's anchors for the past three seasons.
Stewart, a Philadelphia native, scored a team-high 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and outplayed All-Atlantic 10 forward Carlin Warley (11 points, 13 rebounds).
"This makes me think back to my high school days, when my friends were asking which school I was going to," said Stewart, who scored seven points in the game's final 15 minutes. "I said Coppin State. They said 'Where's that? California?'
"After last year, when we didn't get invited to the NIT, I thought our season was over [following the MEAC tournament loss to North Carolina A&T]. My goal was to win a postseason game at Coppin and be a part of history. For the NIT to invite us this year, and to come back to the city where I grew up and win a game like this, it's just unbelievable."
Goodman's comeback was perhaps the most striking.
After going scoreless in the first half, and throwing up several air balls, he regrouped after halftime to produce 16 points. After hitting a three-pointer with 9:45 left in regulation to pull the Eagles to within 45-44, Goodman went on to score nine more points, including five in overtime.
"I was very anxious to come in and play today, and I came out kind of nervous," Goodman said. "Sooner or later, I knew my shots were going to start falling."
They did, and so did St. Joe's.