RICHMOND, Va. -- By all estimations -- which includes the opinions of both coaches in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference finals -- this was not a vintage Coppin State team.
Maybe it was in effort, but the talent was not as high as with many of its predecessors. Yet, the team found itself in the runner-up spot for both the regular-season and conference titles after a 70-53 loss to South Carolina State last night. It is a position the Eagles have been in many times before, with better teams.
Fang Mitchell pointed to his team's desire, while Bulldogs coach Sy Alexander pointed to Mitchell.
"I don't care what level of talent, he makes his team play and play hard," Alexander said of the Coppin State coach. "Maybe they don't have the talent that Coppin has had over the years. But you see what he did. He was able to get to the finals.
"He won a game [the previous night] where he willed that win against a very talented Hampton team. Fang would not let those guys lose."
If anyone outside of the coaches at Coppin State is an expert on Eagles basketball, it is Alexander. The teams play twice a season and have met in the MEAC tournament final three out of the past five years. Alexander has won all three.
He said Mitchell gets the most out of what he has. This season, he led the Eagles to a 13-5 conference record.
Mitchell did not have any first-team All-MEAC selections to work with, and only had one player, Jorge Cajigas, who was named to the second team.
Instead, Coppin State (15-15) found ways to win, such as it did in the semifinals against Hampton, a team it trailed for most of the game.
Mitchell did not like the fact that his team celebrated too much after the comeback win over the Pirates, but it may have been warranted.
The seedings did not bear it out, but a case could be made that the third-seeded Pirates had more talent than the second-seeded Eagles, who ran only seven-deep.
"The team overachieved," Mitchell said. "This wasn't one of the most talented Coppin State teams. We stayed in games because of our desire.
"You have to thank these young people who are playing because a lot of teams were a lot more talented than we were."
The Eagles will have a new look next season, with many open spots for playing time on next year's roster.
Coppin State will lose Cajigas, along with fellow seniors Kofi Pointer and Tyran Watkins. Forwards Joe Brown, Michael Poster and Larry Tucker and guard Rasheem Simms are the only players returning that played significant minutes in the tournament.
Mitchell realizes that he will have to reload to get his team back to the finals.
"We're going to be starting all over again next year," Mitchell said. "Losing the players that we lost will be a tremendous loss for us. But I'm looking forward to building it up all over again."