Poised UMBC rattles Coppin down stretch

14-2 surge, 72-58 win put Retrievers in tourney final

November 20, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Coppin State's introduction to the Battle of Baltimore was a rude one last night.

A poised and seasoned UMBC team rationed the Eagles to one field goal for more than eight minutes in the second half and pulled away to a surprisingly easy 72-58 victory at the Coppin Center.

The result sends the Retrievers into today's 9 p.m. final against Loyola, which dispatched Towson, 74-67, in the opener. Loyola beat UMBC, 73-61, in the tournament's first game last year.

Defense was the catalyst for UMBC, which captured 16 of 17 games after opening last season 0-4, including two losses in the Battle of Baltimore.

Before a spirited crowd of 2,675, the Retrievers exploited Coppin's relative lack of seasoning down the stretch, unleashing a 14-2 streak that erased the Eagles' final lead (49-47) and put the game away.

"UMBC did a tremendous defensive job, a real good job on the boards and played well as a team," said Fang Mitchell, Coppin coach.

"In the stretch, their experience really showed up and our inexperience showed up."

Coppin (0-1) had not lost a home game to a nonconference opponent since Dec. 9, 1992, when the Retrievers scored a 76-68 upset. But the Eagles shot only 33 percent from the floor last night and searched all game for a companion scoring threat for Jorge Cajigas.

The senior guard from Puerto Rico poured in a game-high 28 points and single-handedly kept the Eagles alive until midway through the second half.

But UMBC found some openings in the Coppin defense and managed to penetrate it for several easy inside baskets that sparked the decisive streak.

"The first half we were feeling each other out," said Retrievers coach Tom Sullivan. "We felt that the team that settled down would have an advantage. We were able to get the ball inside, penetrate and dish and I was happy with our defense."

The Retrievers dominated inside, with Kennedy Okafor grabbing 11 rebounds and Isaac Green nine.

They also used veterans Terence Ward and Tim Hyland and freshman Justin Wilson to blunt the Coppin defense with their ball-handling skills.

Ward scored 12 points two days after returning to practice from a sprained ankle. "My legs got a little tired," he said. "My ankle stiffened up a little bit when I sat on the bench, but for the most part I felt good."

"Terence loves basketball and if he didn't have that desire, he might not have played," Sullivan said. "But he's worked at it and you recover more quickly that way."

Five UMBC players scored in double figures, with Hyland notching a team-high 15 points.

Meanwhile, Cajigas said the Eagles "didn't go inside and there were times we should have. That would have gotten more open shots for the guards."

"We have to find scoring from someone other than Jorge," said Mitchell. "With the schedule we've got coming up, we'll need it. And we didn't get a lot from the bench."

The Eagles, who suffered only their fifth defeat in their last 70 appearances at the Coppin Center, will play Towson in today's 6 p.m. consolation game. The win for UMBC was its first in an opening game since 1993-94.

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