Cinderella slipper falls off Coppin Bid for NCAA repeat fades with late lead in 66-61 loss to S.C. State

Scoreless in final 2: 23

Brockington, Singletary make a sad MEAC exit

March 08, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

RICHMOND, Va. -- There were no more last-minute miracles left yesterday for Coppin State, the little school on North Avenue.

The Eagles literally threw away the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament championship to South Carolina State, 66-61, in the final seconds yesterday at the Richmond Coliseum and lost the more than $100,000 the school would have earned from a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

"The money is obviously a big loss," said Coppin coach Fang Mitchell, whose Eagles (21-8) won the regular-season title. "But the pride, the prestige and everything else that goes with an NCAA tournament bid are immeasurable.

"I feel bad for every player on this team, but one word -- turnovers -- tells the story. I do think you have to give South Carolina State some credit for the way Tyler Brown and Roderick Blakney hit some huge shots at the end."

What hurt the most for Coppin was the fact it led the game for more than 38 minutes and held a 59-51 lead with 3: 36 left.

Coppin did not score a point in the final 2: 23, after Kareem Lewis had given his team a 61-57 lead with two free throws.

After last season's Cinderella run in the NCAAs, when they beat No. 6 South Carolina and came within a shot of becoming the first No. 15 seed to reach the final 16, a possible National Invitation Tournament bid was far from the minds of the Coppin players when they took the court against second-seeded South Carolina State (22-7).

As the final buzzer sounded, Mitchell held his hand on his chin and stared at the ceiling as his players headed for the locker room.

Coppin State president Calvin W. Burnett tried to console Mitchell and the players during the award ceremonies on court a few minutes later, but soon realized there was very little he could do.

"It's been a great season," said Burnett. "We have a great team and coach and just a few mistakes at the end cost us the game. These players are young and it's hard for them to accept."

No one on the team really wanted to believe that their two senior go-to guys, Antoine Brockington and Danny Singletary, couldn't score in two crucial situations over the final 1: 15.

First it was Brockington who missed a 14-foot jumper. When he followed his shot and leaped for the rebound, he again put it up in midair -- and missed -- rather than pulling the ball out and eating up some clock with Coppin holding a 61-59 lead.

"Here I am the so-called leader on this team and I couldn't come through for my teammates," said Brockington, who, playing with knee, foot and wrist injuries, finished with 10 points (3-for-12), less than half his average. "That cut right to my heart and I then believed someone else had to do it for us."

That "someone else" for Coppin was Singletary, the point guard who had the ball in his hands with his team down, 62-61, as the final seconds were ticking off the clock.

Singletary drove into the lane and as the clock struck 4.4 seconds, he went up to shoot but suddenly changed his mind and fired a pass toward Fred Warrick and Dorian Pena, who were both cutting along the right baseline.

The line-drive pass went untouched out of bounds and Singletary fell to the floor in dismay.

"I made a bad decision and tried to pass instead of shooting," said Singletary, who led Coppin with 18 points. "I'll take the blame on that play."

Needing a miracle with only 4.4 seconds remaining, Coppin endured only more misery as S.C. State's Brown (game-high 31 points) and Blakney (14) each hit two free throws to officially finish off Coppin, giving S.C. State its second tournament title in three years, and the third NCAA tournament berth in school history.

Brown, who scored 20 of his 31 points in the second half, almost single-handedly overcame Coppin's eight-point lead, hitting back-to-back three-pointers to make it a two-point game with 2: 45 left.

During a timeout, "Tyler said 'get me the ball,' " Bulldogs coach Cy Alexander said. "He's gesturing to me 'I want the ball.' "

S.C. State had gone ahead, 62-61, on a tip-in by Raheem Waller when Bobby McGowins missed the front end of a one-and-one with 18 seconds left.

Pena took the blame for allowing the Waller basket, saying, "I was out of position and didn't block him out. On Danny's pass, Fred and I both were there, but neither one of us could get to the ball."

"I don't look at the game being lost on that particular play," Mitchell said of Waller's tip-in. "There were just so many other things we didn't do that it got to the point where that was crucial."

Nearby, Brockington sat in pain. But for a change it wasn't from the tendinitis in his left knee, a dislocated left big toe or a sore left wrist. It was the emotional pain of a MEAC chapter that after 53 wins in 61 games -- and one title and two second-place finishes -- was closed for the three-year standout.

"As I keep looking at my teammates' faces," he said, "I'm starting to realize it more and more that my career is over."

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