Off-target Coppin misses title, too S.C. State wins MEAC, finishes Eagles, 69-56

March 03, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- For two years, Coppin State had established itself as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's most dominant team. Although the Eagles shared this season's conference regular-season title with South Carolina State, it was clear in yesterday's tournament title game which was the better team.

Coppin State entered as the nation's second-best shooting team, but showed up without its offense. And that is why South Carolina State will represent the league in the NCAA tournament after yesterday's 69-56 win.

The numbers told the story. Coppin suffered its worst shooting game of the season, hitting 28.3 percent after shooting 50.9 percent before yesterday. The 17 field goals made and the six assists also were season lows, with the 56 points the second fewest this season.

"When I coach I don't want many surprises, I want to see the same thing every game," Coppin coach Fang Mitchell said. "[Yesterday], it was a game full of surprises."

The biggest surprise was MEAC Player of the Year Terquin Mott. The nation's best field-goal percentage (65.4 percent) that Mott took into the championship was due to his shooting touch around the basket. But yesterday Mott, perhaps frustrated by a defense designed to stop him, turned into a perimeter player. The result was a 4-for-14 shooting performance (28.5 percent) that did little to help his team's chances.

"If I hadn't played, maybe we would have shot 70 percent," Mott said. "I took a lot of bad shots."

For the season Mott had tried five three-point shots, missing them all. Yesterday his first two attempts were three-pointers, and he ended up hitting one of three shots behind the arc. Many of his other attempts came from the foul-line area.

"He took more jump shots [the past two games] than he did combined all year long," Mitchell said. "That's a problem because we didn't execute properly. We didn't screen properly and that didn't allow [Mott] to get the ball in positions that he would like."

The Eagles faced an uphill battle much of the game, trailing by as many as 11 in the first half. The Bulldogs scored the first seven points of the second half and, after guard Roderick Blakney converted a three-point play with 17:55 left, South Carolina State had its biggest lead, 42-27.

Coppin made a run and, helped by back-to-back three-pointers by Antoine Brockington (17 points), the Eagles were within 47-42 with 11:27 left. And even after Miguel Burns responded with a tip-in for his only basket to increase South Carolina State's lead to 49-42, the Eagles appeared to have momentum.

Then came perhaps the game's key play. Mott grabbed a defensive rebound and tried to dribble upcourt. The ball was tipped, South Carolina State's Jamal Brown scored on a layup and, instead of a possible five-point deficit, the Eagles trailed by nine with 10 minutes left. Momentum gone, the Eagles never got any closer.

"It's disappointing, we just never started off well and couldn't do the things we wanted from the start," Brockington said. "I think nervousness played a part. We got away from a lot of the things that got us here."

South Carolina State stuck to its plan, which is why the Bulldogs -- with four starters from last season -- won the MEAC for the first time since 1989.

"They were hungry, they wanted to go out on top and it's a team that I've respected all season," said Coppin forward Reggie Welch who, along with Mott, made the all-tournament team. "You have to sometimes play the perfect game when you get to a championship game. The ball bounced their way. They're good, and I know they'll represent our conference well."

Coppin point guard Allen Watson wanted that distinction of representing the conference. Since Coppin became eligible to play for the MEAC title in 1989, every Eagle who had played at least three seasons had gone to the NCAA tournament. Watson's chance ended with a five-point, one-assist performance.

"It hurts. My last two years I've been to the tournament and didn't make it to the NCAAs and . . ." said an emotional Watson before burying his head in his hands, unable to finish.

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: Friday

Coppin State 78, Del. State 64

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

Championship: Yesterday

S.C. State 69, Coppin State 56

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