Coppin ends regular season with 80-62 victory over UMES Eagles now look to atone for past tourney failure

March 02, 1997|By Derek Toney | Derek Toney,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Now comes the hard part for Coppin State.

The Eagles completed their regular season last night with an 80-62 victory over Maryland-Eastern Shore in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game before a homecoming crowd of more than 2,700 at Coppin Center.

Next for Coppin State (18-8, 15-3) is the league's tournament in Norfolk, Va., which begins Wednesday. The Eagles will play the winner of the play-in game between UMES and Howard.

Though Coppin State has won or shared the regular-season championship in seven of the past eight seasons, the road to the NCAA tournament has been rough. The Eagles last won the tournament title in 1993, then lost in 1994 and 1995 in stunning fashion, when the tournament was held at Morgan State. Last year, South Carolina State ended Coppin's bid for a NCAA tournament bid in the final.

"The fact is that we are in a situation where we have an opportunity," said Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell. "We just have to go in and play with the determination of being successful and playing hard. I don't even worry about the results."

Despite another impressive regular-season record, the Eagles endured a lot of turmoil.

In January, Coppin State's 42-home winning streak, then the longest in the country, was ended by North Carolina A&T. Injuries and suspensions made the regular season more difficult than previous seasons. But the Eagles hope that those up and downs can toughen them for a March run.

"In previous seasons we had no problems. Then the tournament come, and we would be so tight," said senior forward Reggie Welch. "This year, we're loose. We had so many problems it's like, 'What more can happen?'

"We have been able to bounce back and now we understand it's down to three games. Everything starts over. If I have to make a prediction right now, we're going to win it."

Welch, along with seniors Terquin Mott, David Houston and Julian King, were honored before their final home game.

But the Eagles' underclassmen paved the way to their fourth consecutive victory and 14th in their past 15 games.

Junior guard Antoine Brockington led Coppin State with 24 points and sophomore forward Fred Warrick added 17. Marcus Cheek led UMES (10-16, 6-12) with 15 points.

Trailing 36-35 early in the second half, Coppin State scored 16 of the next 19 points to build its largest lead at 12 at 51-39 with 14: 19 remaining.

"We took them lightly early," said Brockington. "We played like we had nothing to lose, but we really did. In the second half, Coach told us to play defense and put pressure on them."

Pub Date: 3/02/97

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