The rout was over, and the race was on between Kyle Locke and Allen Watson.
After an 87-54 pounding of Howard last night that marked the final home game for Coppin State's only seniors, they --ed to the center circle, knelt and kissed the Eagle logo. It was a tribute to a 41-game win streak at the Coppin Center, a fourth straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season title and the hours that they've invested in those accomplishments.
Watson, the point guard otherwise known as "Smooth," was academically ineligible as a freshman, and went 31-0 at the Coppin Center. Locke is the only Eagle player who knows what it's like to lose a game there -- it happened three games into his freshman year, against UMBC -- but he's also the only one who's worn a Coppin State uniform in the NCAA tournament.
That also happened in 1992-93. When Locke plays in his fourth and final MEAC tournament later this week in Tallahassee, he'll remember Coppin State's regular-season dominance being drowned out by upset losses in that tournament the past two years.
"The MEAC tournament the last two years has been a big letdown," said Locke, a swingman who's always been a role player.
"Some of the younger guys don't understand what the postseason is all about, but things seemed different on this team the last few days. I think everyone's got the picture now of what needs to be done."
Two days after the Eagles turned back South Carolina State in a severe threat to the Coppin Center win streak, both teams finished 14-2, well atop the MEAC. Coppin State (17-9) won the title outright the past three seasons, and it's the first time in the conference's 25-year history that a team has won or shared the regular-season title four straight years.
During that regular-season roll, the Eagles are 61-3 against the MEAC, 32-0 at the Coppin Center.
On the basis of a higher point differential in the two games that they split, S. C. State will be the No. 1 seed for the MEAC tournament. Coppin State, the No. 2 seed, will meet Howard in Thursday's (1:30 p.m.) quarterfinals.
With junior forward Reggie Welch back from a one-game suspension, Coppin State was all the way up to 10 players, and they were motivated by a Jan. 29 one-point loss at Howard (7-19). Guard Antoine Brockington had 26 points, and center Terquin Mott had 15 and 13 rebounds.
"It's like a new team, isn't it?" said coach Fang Mitchell, who uses three transfers and four first-year players. "They did all the things I've been looking for them to do tonight. They played tough, they defended."