Coppin looks to prove it's no 1-shot wonder Players know beating Texas in Round 2 would erase any 'lucky' label

Ncaa Tournament

March 16, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- Despite re cording one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history, and the ensuing attention that came with their 13-point win over sixth-ranked South Carolina, Coppin State players get the feeling they still are not being taken seriously.

"In a way, I think we still haven't [earned respect]," said Coppin forward Reggie Welch, who had a game-high 15 rebounds in Friday's NCAA East Regional win over the second-seeded Gamecocks. "I think there are still a lot of nonbelievers out there. They think that we got a lucky break. Their attitude is 'let's see what they do next.' "

And next comes today when 15th-seeded Coppin (22-8) plays No. 10 seed Texas (17-11) in a second-round game at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.

Even after pulling off perhaps the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history, the Eagles are far from satisfied. They want to show they are more than a one-game wonder.

"Our goal is to prove that we're worthy," Welch said. "We just want to go out and play basketball. We want to alleviate the pressure we put on ourselves, because Texas is going to put a lot on us."

There will definitely be pressure from the Longhorns, who were the first team to get an at-large bid to an NCAA tournament with only 16 games. Texas likes to pressure full-court, and coach Tom Penders uses nine bodies to keep his players fresh.

That defensive pressure caught Wisconsin off-guard in Friday's first-round win and could pose problems for Coppin point guard Danny Singletary, who scored 22 points on Friday.

"It was important for us to jump out on [Wisconsin] and rattle them," Penders said. "When we do that, we're able to get steals and transition buckets, which is the best way to attack people."

Texas follows the lead of Reggie Freeman, a senior guard from New York City who scored 31 points in the opening-round win. More a scorer than a shooter (38.7 percent), Freeman watched Friday's Coppin win on television and was impressed by what he saw.

"I saw the whole stadium rooting for them and I was going along with everybody else," Freeman said. "It will be fun to guard them, and we'll play the best we can. They present some challenges for us, and I noticed that they talk some mess on the court."

And "talking mess" for the Eagles just might be a positive, as long as they don't get taken out of their games. As they proved on Friday, the Coppin players are playing with a lot of confidence and will not likely back down to a foe representing the Big 12 Conference.

"People talk a lot about they're all-conference and all this and all that," said junior guard Antoine Brockington, who scored 20 points for Coppin on Friday. "When I come up to play them, they're going to have to show me."

Because the Longhorns -- like South Carolina -- don't have any dominant front-court players, Coppin has a shot to succeed. If the Eagles are able to break the Texas press, and get Terquin Mott and Welch involved, it could develop into a tight game.

"This is similar [to Friday], with their quickness," Coppin coach Fang Mitchell said. "It's going to come down to how we take care of the ball."

That a team that has endured player suspensions, injuries and dissension among teammates came together against South Carolina has Mitchell feeling pretty good. After a first half on Friday in which the Eagles had no assists, Coppin came out in the second half and played perhaps its most unselfish stretch of the season.

"They came out and had more poise than I've seen them have all year long," Mitchell said. "It's been a year full of everything. With all the problems we had, I said [before the NCAA tournament] they can still win it -- because you never know what they're going to do. And when it came time to step up, they stepped up."

Penders realizes that, which is why he wants to make sure that the Longhorns don't take Coppin lightly.

"I was impressed with the way they played and were coached," Penders said. "It was not a shock to me when I went back to my room and saw they had won. They played with a purpose. They definitely belong here, and are better than a No. 15 seed."

Pub Date: 3/16/97

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