RICHMOND, Va. -- Emotionally sapped from its Friday night win over Hampton, Coppin State's men's basketball team was routed, 70-53, last night by South Carolina State in the final of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.
Though the Bulldogs (20-13) waited until the final 10 minutes to pull away, they dominated the Eagles (15-15) from the start, handing Fang Mitchell his worst MEAC loss since a 102-70 defeat to North Carolina A&T on Feb. 17, 1988.
South Carolina State held the Eagles to 32 percent shooting and had a 48-30 rebounding advantage (with 23 offensive boards). And, the Bulldogs got 26 points and 10 rebounds from tournament MVP Mike Wiatre to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
"You do have to give South Carolina State credit for coming to the game with an attitude that they wanted to win," Mitchell said, alluding to what he thought was his team's lack of focus following the semifinal win.
After the Eagles had overcome a seven-point deficit to Hampton to make it to the title game, the team was understandably jubilant.
"I don't think we celebrated too much," said Joe Brown, who followed two strong shooting nights with a 1-for-8 performance. "I thought that we were too relaxed, and they came out ready to play."
South Carolina State was indeed ready for Coppin, its only peer in the MEAC for the last decade and only percentage points behind it in the regular-season standings. The Bulldogs scored a last-second win over the Eagles in Baltimore, but were embarrassed in an earlier meeting in Orangeburg, S.C.
"Coppin State's been a great team. They're the second-best team in the conference," said Bulldogs guard James Jones, who scored 13 points and had seven rebounds. "We wanted to prove that we're a good team also, and we proved that tonight."
South Carolina State opened by taking a 16-4 lead on Omar Vanderhorst's three-pointer with 10: 26 remaining.
The Bulldogs -- launching any shot that looked remotely open -- went 23 percent from the field, but had 13 offensive rebounds in the first half. Coppin, meanwhile, was dysfunctional in just about every way on offense: shooting 36 percent without the rebounding (five offensive rebounds) or ball control (nine first-half turnovers and 18 overall) to make up for it.
The usual remedies for the Eagles' stagnant offense didn't work. Rasheem Sims -- capable of pulling the team out of ruts in the first two tournament games -- went two of six from the field.
"We ran very little offense; we wanted to go one-on-one," Mitchell said. "It did surprise me to get to this point in the season and then to not do the things that we did to get to this point."
Still, the Eagles were down just 28-21 at the half.
"We were in good shape, down six," Sims said. "Then they just stepped it up and we didn't react to the challenge the way we were supposed to."
After a Kofi Pointer free throw pulled Coppin to within 36-30 with 12: 25 left, South Carolina State's defense did as it had the whole game, allowing only four Eagles free throws during a 13-4 run for a 47-34 lead at the 8: 49 mark.
"I don't think I've ever seen defense played the way these young men played today," South Carolina State coach Cy Alexander said. "They worked hard from the tip-off until the triple zeroes on the clock."
Pointer, playing in his final college game, had 10 points along with Sims; Michael Poster led Coppin with 14 points.
It was also the final game for Tyran Watkins and Cajigas, who'd anticipated an NCAA tournament appearance in his last season.
"I wanted to give the sophomores and juniors another opportunity to go so they can have the feeling next year of what it's like to go to the tournament," Cajigas said. "This is my last year, so I really wanted to go. No senior wants to lose, and especially in a championship game. It's tough."
COPPIN STATE -- Sims 3-11 2-2 10, Poster 5-7 0-0 14 Pointer 1-4 8-10 10, Cajigas 2-9 0-0 6, Brown 1-8 2-2 4, Tucker 4-8 1-2 9, Davis-McCrary 0-1 0-0 0, Watkins 0-1 0-0 0, Iacona 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-49 13-16 53.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE -- Wiatre 7-18 9-10 26, Davis 2-11 0-0 5, Johnson 4-7 2-4 10, Jones 4-12 3-4 13, Carlisle 0-3 0-0 0, Radford 0-1 0-0 0, Wright 0-0 1-2 1, Vanderhorst 4-10 1-2 11, Hall 0-1 0-0 0, Shivers 0-2 4-4 4, Alston 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-65 20-26 70.
Half--South Carolina State 28-21. 3-point goals--CS 8-23 (Poster 4-6, Cajigas 2-5, Sims 2-7, Pointer 0-1, Brown 0-1, Davis-McCrary 0-1, Tucker 0-2); SCS 8-24 (Wiatre 3-8, Vanderhorst 2-3, Jones 2-5, Davis 1-7, Shivers 0-1). Fouled out--Poster, Cajigas. Rebounds--CS 30 (Pointer, Cajigas 7); SCS 48 (Wiatre, Johnson 10). Assists--CS 9 (Sims 9); SCS 12 (Jones 4). Total fouls--CS 21; SCS 19. Technical--Coppin State team. A--n/a.