No. 11 Connecticut stops Coppin Eagles lack magic, size in opening loss, 72-50

November 25, 1997|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The glory of Pittsburgh in March faded into late November gloom last night for Coppin State.

No matter how many times Fang Mitchell screamed and stomped his foot or how spectacular Antoine Brockington looked throwing in three long three-point jumpers, the Eagles couldn't recapture any March magic in their opening game against No. 11 Connecticut and fell hard to the Huskies, 72-50, before 13,212 at the Hartford Civic Center.

Brockington led Coppin (0-1) with 18 points, four rebounds and two steals, keeping the game close in the first eight minutes with seven points.

"I never expected to lose to them by 22 points," said Brockington, who led Coppin's NCAA tournament run last season. "The only difference in them and us was that they were bigger up front. I'm crushed by this loss because I want to prove to people that we weren't a Cinderella team last year and it wasn't a fluke."

The four front-line Coppin players -- Kareem Lewis, Dorian Pena, Rafi Reavis and Tyran Watkins -- combined for an 0-for-7 shooting effort from the field, two free throws and not one bit of intimidation.

"I haven't been very nice at practice this season," said Mitchell. "I've been hollering at our men up front and saying, 'They're imitation big guys.' When you have a layup no matter who it is against, you have to make it. Connecticut wasn't a real big team. They just moved the ball around a lot and hit their shots against our zone."

Sophomore forwards Richard Hamilton and Kevin Freeman paced Connecticut, combining for 34 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

The Huskies (4-0) had already played three games before taking on the Eagles, and it showed in the smoothness of their offense.

Two of those wins came in the preseason NIT against Boston University and Rhode Island last week, advancing Connecticut to tomorrow night's semifinals against Florida State at Madison Square Garden.

Connecticut is also the preseason favorite to win the Big East championship, and the Huskies have advanced at least to the second round of the NCAA tournament six times in the 1990s.

Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said, "Fang has three super players. Brockington could play for anybody in the country, but tonight he ran into [Huskies junior guard] Ricky Moore, who virtually shut him down in the second half and turned a 15-point game into a rout."

Mitchell vowed that his team would be successful later in the season.

"This was a learning experience for us," he said. "We felt and our guards felt coming into the season that they were going to have to carry the load, and what happened tonight showed this thinking was incorrect. We found out that in Division I you have to have balance."

The Eagles' numerous November and December road trips have become accepted by Mitchell, but he said last night he still doesn't enjoy all the away games.

"We're on the road not only because I'm a greedy guy and want the money," said Mitchell with a grin. "But teams don't want to play us a home-and-home series. Even the teams a notch below Connecticut won't play us home-and-home. The only games I have on our schedule next year are league games.

"The NCAA has to do something. Our phone never rings, and when we call the response is negative."

Pub Date: 11/25/97

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