Coppin cruises into MEAC final Del. State falls, 78-64

S.C. State is next

March 02, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When Coppin State was upset by North Carolina A&T in last year's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, Reggie Welch and Terquin Mott made a vow as they watched from the stands.

"We both told each other that we were going to get this team to the championship," said Welch, who along with Mott sat out as transfer students last season. "We said that we were going to take care of things. And here we are."

"Here" for Coppin is today's MEAC championship game, with the second-seeded Eagles earning a chance to play for an NCAA tournament berth with yesterday's 78-64 win over No. 3 seed Delaware State in the Gaither Athletic Center at Florida A&M.

The Eagles will face top-seeded South Carolina State, which defeated North Carolina A&T, 69-46. It will mark the first time since 1989 that the top two seeds of the MEAC tournament will square off for the title.

"And that's the way it should be," Mott said.

The teams were co-champions of the MEAC regular season with 14-2 conference records, and split their two meetings. South Carolina State earned the top seed because of point differential in the head-to-head matchups, beating Coppin, 81-69, in Orangeburg, S.C., on Feb. 19.

"I think South Carolina State is more athletic," said Delaware State coach Fred Goodman. "But at the same time I think Coppin plays well as a team. If Coppin is hitting on all cylinders, they're going to be tough to beat."

Coppin wasn't hitting on all cylinders yesterday but still led by as many as 25 points in a game that was not nearly as close as the final score indicated. The Eagles (19-9) got a huge lift from Welch in the first half, when the guard hit seven of 11 shots and scored 19 points.

The effort by Welch, coming off the bench for the fourth straight game after serving a one-game suspension, helped turn a one-point advantage midway through the first half into a 43-26 halftime lead.

"We look for Reggie to come in and do those things," Coppin coach Fang Mitchell said. "They were important today because as much as they were collapsing around Turk, we needed someone to step up. Reggie came ready to play."

Welch finished with 25 points and seven rebounds, hitting 10 of 15 shots, including three three-pointers. A starter all season until his one-game suspension, Welch doesn't appear to mind his role off the bench.

"Whatever I have to do to help the team, I'll do it," Welch said. "My role is to come out and give us a lift. I don't care if I have to come off the bench to do it."

Mott, double- and triple-teamed much of the game, finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. And point guard Allen Watson had seven points, 10 assists, three steals and just one turnover in 36 minutes.

"He's been consistent all year," Mitchell said of Watson. "If you would ask anybody who the most valuable player on our team is, his name comes up over and over."

So the Eagles find themselves in the championship game for the second straight season, and the fourth time in their eight years in tournament play.

Coppin has won four straight games, its last loss coming at South Carolina State, a game in which the Eagles trailed by as many as 29 points. South Carolina State has won three straight, its last loss coming at Coppin when Welch served his suspension.

On paper, it shapes up as an exciting game. A Coppin win would erase some of the memories from last year, even for those players who didn't suit up.

"I sleep at night and all I dream about are those guys last year laying on the floor crying," Mott said. "Our job is only two-thirds done."

MEAC tournament

At Tallahassee, Fla.

First round: Thursday

Coppin State 83, Howard 63

Delaware State 59, UMES 56

S.C. State 79, Florida A&M 58

N.C. A&T 75, Beth.-Cookman 74

Semifinals: Yesterday

Coppin State 78, Del. State 64

S.C. State 69, N.C. A&T 46

Championship: Today

Coppin vs. S.C. State, 3 p.m.

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