BALTIMORE – The Coppin State men’s basketball team believes its best hoops are ahead of it. With five regular season games remaining, the Eagles are confident they can do some damage and finish as the last team standing during next month’s Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) tournament.
The Eagles (9-15 overall, 6-5 MEAC) will look to take a step in that direction as they travel to meet Florida A&M (8-16, 4-7) Saturday night in the Al Lawson Center at 7:00 Eastern time. The game will begin at 6:00. This will be the Eagles first trip to Florida’s capital city since 2011.
Coppin State senior forward Michael Murray is the only Eagle who has played at FAMU and he remembers his visit like it was yesterday.
“It was a crazy atmosphere and tough playing there,” Murray said. “FAMU always has good teams. They always play hard and they compete with anybody in the league, so we have to be ready for them. I think for us, we play better on the road. I feel we play with more energy and play hard. We know we’re going to have to match FAMU’s intensity and energy and if we do that I think we’ll give ourselves a chance to win the game.”
Coppin State has won its last two conference road games and it will look to continue its swagger on foreign courts.
The Eagles bounce back from tough defeats well and they will be facing a Rattler squad that has lost five of its last six games. Coppin State is coming off a tough 82-77 loss to Morgan State in which it made an uncharacteristic 4 of 20 shots from 3-point distance. Meanwhile, FAMU enters off a 92-49 defeat to MEAC leader North Carolina Central.
“We felt like we should have won the Morgan game,” Murray said. “We’re just looking to bounce back. We’re a tough team. If we can get a win Saturday, it will help us. If you look at our stats, I think our road stats are better than what we do at home.”
The Eagles average the same amount of points wherever they play: 67.7 on the road and 67.0 at home in five conference games. CSU also shoots the same percentage in the home whites or the blue away jerseys: 38.8 percent on the road and 38.5 at home. So the biggest difference is in the 3-point shooter where the Eagles have made 23 more triples on the road than at home.
Lately, the Eagles have done their best work away from Baltimore. Perhaps, they enjoy the Chik-Fil-A meal stops, the flat screen televisions in the hotel rooms or just sending the home fans into the chilly winter night with frowns of their faces. Whatever the reason, Coppin State seems to be relaxed on the road.
In compiling a 4-2 record in conference road games, Coppin State has four players averaging double figures led by senior guard Andre Armstrong’s 15.3 point per game average. Senior Michael Murray has scored 14.2 points and grabbed 8.2 rebounds per outing on the road. Sophomore Sterling Smith (11.3 points per game) and junior guardTaariq Cephas (11.0) have also enjoyed special moments in opposing MEAC gyms.
The quartet has also combined for 45 made 3-pointers. Murray and Armstrong have made at least 40 percent of their shots on the road. Cephas had his first career double-double (12 points, 10 assists) against Delaware State on Dec. 7 in Dover. Junior Daquan Brickhouse scored a career-high 18 points on Jan. 18 in a win at Hampton. Murray burned Delaware State for a career-high 28 points.
Against North Carolina A&T on Jan. 27, the Eagles made a season-high 13 3-pointers and raced to a 31-7 lead. In its last road game at Maryland-Eastern Shore, Coppin State’s defense rose to the occasion late by holding the Hawks scoreless for the final five minutes of the game. Murray also recorded his third double-double of the season (10 points, 10 rebounds). Smith and Brandon St. Louis combine for 8.3 rebounds on the road this season.
Defensively in their six away conference contests, the Eagles have held three teams below 60 points, including its last two opponents.
“We’re going on the road and we’ll be ready to play,” Coppin State head coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell said. We haven’t had as much success at home this season. I just think my guys understand being on the road. They know it’s a tough situation for them and a tough venue we’re going to so they gear their minds to compete at a higher level. I look for them to be ready to play and accept the challenge.”
In the loss against Morgan State, the Eagles never quit and gave themselves an opportunity to win the game at the end. Cephas flirted with a triple-double as he finished with 17 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Murray contributed 21 points and eight rebounds. Armstrong scored in double figures for the 13th straight game by finishing with 11 points.
Meanwhile, FAMU had a tough night in Durham against NCCU, who earned a measure of revenge after suffering its only conference defeat on Jan. 11 to the Rattlers, 63-60. Jamie Adams led three FAMU players in double figures with 12 points against NCCU. Scoring 10 points each for the Rattlers were Reggie Lewis and Trey Kellum.
Adams (16.5 points per game) and Lewis (11.5) lead the Rattlers in scoring. They have combined for 98 3-pointers. Kellum scores at a 9.1 point per game clip and leads FAMU in rebounding (6.3 per game). Jomari Bradshaw is another 3-pointer shooter to keep an eye on as he has made 21 or the season and is averaging 8.9 points per contest. The Rattlers are 6-2 at home this season.
“I understand that they have some shooters and they rebound the ball very well,” Mitchell said. “We’re going to have to be able to play better defense, find their shooters and rebound the ball. We know that they’re a pressing team and we’re going to have to take care of the ball.”
Coppin State will spend the remainder of its regular season in snowy Baltimore. It will play its final away contest Wednesday night against Morgan State before ending the season with three straight home games against Norfolk State, UMES and Howard.