Coppin State comes out sluggish, and Morgan State takes an early lead. But Coppin takes the lead when it counts.
That's the way it has been for 10 of the past 12 men's basketball games between Baltimore's two historically black colleges, so it shouldn't have been much of a surprise when the Eagles won again last night, 81-70, in the Harbor City Classic at Baltimore Arena.
Coppin point guard Rasheem Sims provided the scoring last night, with 20 of his game-high 24 points coming in the second half. Normally assigned simply to run the offense, Sims pumped in 10 points during a three-minute span that broke open a close game.
"Toward the end of last year, he had to take charge in some games," Coppin coach Fang Mitchell said of Sims. "We told him this year we were going to have him take charge in a whole lot of them."
Said Sims, "I had to take control. My team, they expected it from me. When things aren't going right, it's time to step up."
Morgan center Michael Canady, his team's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, was held out of the game for the first 11 minutes for unspecified reasons. In Canady's place, sophomore guard Randy Dukes entered the starting lineup, and Douglass Sims took over at center.
The Bears hoped for at least a defensive repeat of their last game, which was a three-point victory over Towson in the Battle of Baltimore. On the other hand, the Eagles wanted to be sharper than they were during their only game coming into last night, a 78-61 loss against Iona.
Anton Jenifer scored nine of his 14 first-half points during a 14-4 Morgan State run that resulted in a 32-27 lead with 5:41 left. Up to that point, the two teams had kept to within three points of one another. Joe Brown had held Coppin up for most of the half, while Morgan got strong offensive play from Curtis King in addition to Jenifer.
But Morgan distinguished itself defensively as it inched away from the Eagles, not allowing a point for more than seven minutes. Brown scored 11 points over the first nine minutes, but the Bears held him scoreless for the rest of the half.
The problem, of course, was Morgan's own offensive dysfunction. Whole minutes would pass without a Bears basket, a major reason that the halftime lead (34-29) wasn't larger than it was.
As the second half began, the Bears ran into foul trouble, picking up six fouls during the first five minutes. Morgan coach Chris Fuller became visibly irritated at what he saw as an imbalance of calls underneath the basket, as well as the three straight Coppin baskets that changed the lead.
"They threw a zone at us [in the first half]," Sims said. "We didn't attack it. In the second half, we attacked it more."
Coppin led 35-34 after a lay-in by Larry Tucker (Dunbar) with 16:40 left in the game. Both teams traded the lead for the next few minutes, and Morgan actually had a 40-37 edge after a jumper by King with 15:24 left.
But Coppin outscored Morgan 14-4 during the next five minutes, and Michael Poster's jumper with 10:55 remaining gave the Eagles a 51-44 lead. The Bears got to within one point on a pair of free throws by Jenifer, making the score 51-50 with 9:37 left.
The teams stayed close the next few minutes, Coppin leading the whole way, then Sims hit two three-point baskets during a 10-2 run, as his team took a 68-58 lead with about five minutes remaining.
Coppin shot 67 percent from the field in the second half and held Morgan to 40 percent for the game, 38 percent in the second half.
"I've said before that I've seen two [Morgan] teams," Fuller said. "They both showed up tonight. The team that played together and executed and played good defense showed up in the first half. The individuals showed up in the second."
In the earlier game, Johnson C. Smith (4-0, 1-0 Central Intercollegiate) shot 52 percent from the field in the second half of a 83-75 victory over Virginia Union (0-4, 0-1).
Antonio Wade led J. C. Smith as it pulled away from Union over the last six minutes. Wade scored six of his 10 points during a 57-second span as part of a 9-0 run that gave the Golden Bulls a 74-66 lead with 4:17 remaining. Smith held the Panthers at bay from there as Antonio Wiyle scored 19 points and Antoine Sims finished with 17.
Virginia Union, traditionally one of the strongest teams in the CIAA, had five players in double figures, led by Sidney Catlett's 15 points.