Coppin comes up short of Oklahoma Sooners rule inside in 83-72 tourney win

December 28, 1997|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Fang Mitchell tried to hide the frustration of another tough road loss to a bigger and more physical Oklahoma team, 83-72, last night but it wasn't possible.

It just hurt too much for the Coppin State coach.

The same old story is starting to wear a little thin for Mitchell and he finally admitted, "This is the toughest road schedule in the history of Coppin State basketball. That was a big team out there."

The same was true at Iowa State and Wisconsin in recent losses by the Eagles, who fell to 3-5 last night in the opening round of the All-College Tournament at the Myriad Center before a crowd of 9,048.

"But we're going to find a way to win games even if I have to put five guards on the floor," said Mitchell, whose Eagles face Sam Houston State, a 77-58 loser to Alabama, in tonight's consolation round.

As usual last night, Coppin -- which has had just one home game this season -- played super in stretches with its talented guards Antoine Brockington and Danny Singletary doing a lot of outstanding things in all phases of the game.

And suddenly Coppin was ahead, 54-51, with 12:35 left when Dorian Pena slammed home a shot following some fine shooting by Brockington.

But then Oklahoma's two big inside men, 6-foot-11, 260-pound senior center Evan Wiley and 6-7 sophomore Eduardo Najera, began bulling their way over the smaller Eagles for high-percentage baskets and the Sooners (8-4) were rolling, 68-58, with 4:49 left.

Wiley led Oklahoma with 19 points and eight rebounds, but Najera (17 points, seven rebounds) hurt Coppin more down the stretch with his tenaciousplay under the boards.

Najera just wouldn't quit as he went soaring over Coppin players for one putback after another as the Sooners won the board battle, 49-32. At times, it looked as if Najera might have been guilty of reaching fouls, but none were called as the Eagles came up on the short end of that score, too.

Oklahoma was 25 of 37 from the line and Coppin was 11 of 13 to more than account for the final margin of victory.

Brockington, who led Coppin with 19 points, said, "There were some questionable calls at the end and that hurt us some, but Oklahoma also went into a slow-down offense to stop us."

Although Brockington scored 19, it wasn't a vintage night for him as the Sooners played a box-and-one on him and took him out of the offense for long stretches.

"Antoine knows he's a marked man. He's used to it," said Mitchell.

Brockington said: "They had a guy chasing me everywhere [senior guard Corey Brewer most of the time] and that makes it tougher. But I have to find a way to score no matter what they do."

Fred Warrick picked up some of the slack for Coppin with 17 points and freshman point guard Alfonso Jones was impressive in his collegiate debut.

Jones, a product of St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, scored 10 points in 15 minutes and showed no fear in front of the hostile road crowd.

"I wasn't nervous at all," said Jones, who had played in front of many large crowds for St. Frances.

Jones just became academically eligible to play after sitting out more than a season.

Sophomore Coppin shooting guard Jerel Seamon, who sat out the first seven games with a broken bone in his foot, also played for the first time this season last night.

"We found two more guards and they helped our depth," said Mitchell. "The main thing I'm going to ask my guards to do is get more rebounds now. That's what we have to do to make up for our lack of height."

Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said: "Coppin forces you to play like you don't practice. We played good enough to win, but give Coppin credit -- they don't let you look pretty."

Sampson had said before the game that he considered the Myriad Center in Oklahoma City, which is just 40 miles from the Sooners' home court in Norman -- a neutral court.

But it certainly hasn't seemed like that in the past 10 years as the Sooners have won eight of the last 10 All-College tournaments.

Sampson really wanted no part of Coppin in the opening round, hoping to have Alabama play the Eagles.

But Alabama coach David Hopps refused to play Coppin in the opening round and Oklahoma was stuck with the Eagles. Hopps told tournament officials in June he wouldn't play Coppin and it was too late at that time to get a fifth team.

Mitchell said of Alabama's decision, "I think that sends the wrong message to kids in general whoever does it. I'm not just knocking Alabama."

Pub Date: 12/28/97

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