Eagles' troubles begin at home

Coppin St. falls, 65-61, to South Carolina State

record dips to 0-5 as host

College Basketball

January 14, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Coppin State's home-court woes continued yesterday in a 65-61 loss to South Carolina State in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game.

Despite the return of key players Joe Brown and DeMond Huff, Coppin committed 10 second-half turnovers and squandered an eight-point halftime lead to drop its eighth straight game. The loss dropped the Eagles to 0-5 at the Coppin Center this season.

Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell can't predict when his team will regain home-court advantage.

"How do we get the home-court advantage back? We've got to win games," said Mitchell, who had not lost eight straight since his first season in 1986. "To me, it doesn't matter if we're home or away ... if we play in spurts, we're going to have problems."

Recent history has shown that Coppin (4-10, 2-4 MEAC) will have problems when it plays South Carolina State (7-8, 4-0), the team it battled for MEAC titles throughout the last decade. The Bulldogs have won nine of the past 13 meetings with Coppin, taking the last four in Baltimore after losing the previous 10.

Moreover, the outcome in all four of those games has been decided in the final half-minute. One year it was a coast-to-coast drive; another time it was a tip-in, both by South Carolina State.

Yesterday, down 63-61 with 13 seconds left, Coppin made the key play at its own expense. When Henry Nieves went to launch a go-ahead three-pointer from the left wing, he changed his mind after jumping and landed without shooting or passing. That was a violation that gave the ball to South Carolina State.

"He wasn't ready to shoot," Mitchell said of Nieves, who was unavailable for comment. "He got up in the air and didn't shoot."

"We've been very lucky," said South Carolina State coach Cy Alexander, who was pleased with the performances of such reserves as Levy Jones and Najia Taylor as well as starter Greg Gray, who led all scorers with 21 points. "Everyone played their role and did their job."

The good news for Coppin was the presence of Brown and Huff, who had been sidelined with a hamstring injury and a right leg stress fracture, respectively.

Brown, who had been averaging 18 points per game before getting injured in December, had played Monday against Hampton, but not much. He finished with 14 points to lead Coppin. Huff hadn't played since Dec. 6, but finished with 10 points and five rebounds in 16 minutes.

"We were excited to have everyone back," said Michael Poster, who finished with 10 points (as did Larry Tucker). "We knew we wouldn't be at 100 percent, but we'd be close to it."

South Carolina State's star player, Gray, also had been out recently, missing the Bethune-Cookman game Jan. 6 because of a death in the family. He scored 11 in the next game against Florida A&M, then started strong against Coppin, scoring 10 points as his team went on a 12-0 run to take a 23-15 lead.

Coppin, which held South Carolina State to 29 percent shooting in the first half, responded by scoring 16 unanswered points for a 31-23 lead at halftime, a sign of encouragement for Mitchell.

"Not only were we playing defense, but we were also scoring," a large consideration for a team that shot 40 percent on the night.

Coppin gave the lead back halfway through the second half on a three-pointer by Taylor with 12:23 remaining to make the score 42-41. South Carolina State held Coppin to one Joe Brown tip-dunk in a six-minute span and eventually took a 56-49 lead with 4:22 left.

South Carolina State saw its lead drop to 56-55 on a pair of Brown free throws with 2:46 remaining, but guard Vincent Whitt hit two straight jumpers during the next 90 seconds to thwart Coppin's comeback.

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