Coppin humbles Howard Bison kids get lesson in payback, 83-63

March 01, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Forget that Howard University had handed Coppin State its first conference loss of the season back a month ago. With the seventh-seeded Bison walking four freshman starters on the Leon County Civic Center court here for the opening tip of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, it became obvious early they didn't have much of a chance.

"We're not a team that's trying to avoid close games," Coppin center Terquin Mott said. "But if we can crush somebody, we just need to go out and crush them."

And Coppin did that with as impressive a first half as the team has played all season. Limiting Howard to just four field goals, the Eagles led by as many as 27 points in the half, on the way to an 83-63 victory yesterday.

The co-MEAC champion Eagles, the second seed in the tournament, advanced to this afternoon's semifinal matchup against Delaware State (10-16).

Scoring has never been a problem for the Eagles (18-9) this season, but coach Fang Mitchell has been concerned about the team's lapses on the defensive end. But he had no complaints about the first half when his team limited Howard to 21.1 percent shooting while forcing 12 turnovers.

"I was real proud of the job we did defensively in the first half," Mitchell said. "We knew that we could press Howard. We gave them a variety of presses. When you're starting four freshmen who are for the first time in a game of this nature, well, you press them as much as possible. We had positive results."

That defensive pressure led to a lot of easy shots, with Coppin enjoying its fifth-best shooting game of the season (58.3 percent). Mott scored 16 points and freshman Jerel Seamon added 15 for Coppin, which had five players in double figures.

"I've been in this tournament for three years and I've never seen our team come out like that before," said senior guard Allen Watson, who had 10 points and four steals. "I knew we had to play tough defense."

This was a game that was over at the 10-minute mark, by which time the Bison already had turned the ball over eight times and had dug themselves a 23-4 hole. Mitchell used nine players in deploying the full-court pressure that would yield a 44-18 halftime lead and limit Howard to its fewest field goals for a half this season.

"They played extremely well in terms of applying pressure," Howard coach Michael McLeese said. "We couldn't handle anything they threw at us. If you shoot 21 percent, it doesn't matter if you're playing the Little Sisters of the Poor."

The only question that remained in the second half was how lopsided the final score would be. Coppin became more careless in the second half when it turned the ball over 10 times, but that was due in part to the Eagles slowing down their offense. Coppin would hit 13 of 19 second-half shots (68.4 percent), but attempted 18 fewer shots over the final 20 minutes than Howard.

"I knew it would be difficult to maintain the focus with such a large lead, especially after the way we jumped out on them," Mitchell said. "Howard didn't want to be embarrassed. When they stepped it up, our young people have to understand they have to step it up another notch as well."

One of the young players who did was Seamon, the 6-foot-3 guard who is a native of Tallahassee. Seamon, making his ninth start, hit five of nine shots. He was scoreless in nine minutes during his first game here in January.

"It feels good coming home and playing," said Seamon, who had played a game at the Civic Center while at Florida High School. "I want to play well, but as long as we win that's all that matters to me."

Coppin won handily, leaving the team just two games away from its first visit to the NCAA tournament since 1993.

"We wanted to send a message," Mott said. "And I think we did."

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