BALTIMORE – The Coppin State men’s basketball team knows it has at least four games remaining: Three home regular season contests and at minimum, one game, in next month’s Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) tournament.
Anything beyond four games will be strictly up to how the Eagles perform over the next two weeks beginning Saturday afternoon when they host Norfolk State at 4:00 p.m. in a MEAC contest at the Physical Education Complex. The Eagles lost 82-71 to the Spartans on Jan. 20 and would like nothing more than to deliver a punishing payback.
Coppin State (9-17 overall, 6-7 MEAC) confidently believes that it will be the last team standing from the conference in March. The Eagles are talented and skilled. They have a road win at Hampton. Coppin State has also let a few late leads dissipate into defeats. So the Eagles won’t be an easy out for whoever they play. They had Morgan State wobbling for a period at raucous Hill Field House and enjoyed a seven-point second half lead before falling, 78-69 Wednesday night.
“The season hasn’t turned out the way we exactly wanted it to,” Coppin State junior forward Brandon St. Louis said. “We definitely believe our last three games are winnable. We are focused on finishing strong and heading into the tournament with momentum.”
Of course, once the madness of March commences, anything can happen. Nobody knows that better than Coppin State’s legendary head coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell, who has built his share of championship teams. He has witnessed more funny things and craziness during his 28 years at the helm of the Eagles than every Kevin Hart movie combined.
In 2008, the Eagles became the first team in the history of the NCAA championship to qualify for the tournament with 20 losses after winning four games in four days by a combined six points to win the MEAC tournament. That Coppin State squad led by Tywain McKee overcame a 4-19 start to the season to get to the tournament.
So things may not look good presently for the Eagles, who are riding a three-game losing streak, but the MEAC tournament offers hope and a fresh opportunity to experience that championship feeling. Anything is possible.
“We know we can compete against everybody in our conference,” St. Louis said. “It’s tough right now, but the good thing is everybody is still working hard and keeping a positive attitude. The whole team knows and feels that we are better than our record.”
St. Louis has had bursts of brilliance this season for the Eagles. He snatched eight rebounds against Morgan State Wednesday night. Earlier this year in a 91-71 win over UMBC, St. Louis was large and in charge for the Eagles as he stuffed the shat sheet with 12 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots.
He is quite simply a player that every team needs. St. Louis doesn’t need his name in lights. He enjoys during the dirty work, battling for loose balls and keeping possessions alive. In 22 games, St. Louis averages 4.9 rebounds per game, which is second on the team.
The Eagles have plenty of scorers led by senior Michael Murray, who averages 14.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Both marks are team highs for Murray, who posted his fifth double-double of the season against Morgan State with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Senior guardAndre Armstrong is second on the team in scoring with a 12.4 point per game scoring average. Sophomore guard Sterling Smith contributes 11.2 points per outing for outing. Armstrong and Smith have combined to make 97 3-pointers.
St. Louis along with Murray, Arnold Fripp, Charles Ieans and many others will be counted on heavily to rebound. Former Laker and Knick coach Pat Riley always preached to his teams, “no rebounds, no rings.” The Eagles were challenged against Morgan State to do a better job of rebounding after the Florida A&M game. The Eagles were outrebounded by FAMU, 54-28. They improved significantly against Morgan State, only losing the board battle, 38-37.
The Eagles will need to be at their rebounding best against the Spartans, who are second in the MEAC in rebounding margin (+2.1 per game). Norfolk State won the rebounding battle, 42-31, against the Eagles in the first contest.
“We’re looking to try to rebound better against Norfolk this time,” St. Louis said. “The mindset is for us to just stay aggressive, get good position and go for every ball that goes up like it’s going to be a missed shot.”
Coppin State knows it has a great opportunity in front of it to fire a shot heard around the MEAC if it can trip up Norfolk State. The Eagles biggest win this year was against Hampton on the road. A few weeks later, the Eagles had the Pirates beat at home on Feb. 1 before falling in overtime.
Norfolk State dropped a 79-73 overtime decision to Hampton last Saturday. Senior Pendarvis Williams led all scorers with 18 points to go along with eight rebounds, three assists and three steals. Senior Brandon Goode added 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting, 10 rebounds and tied his career high with six blocks. Jamel Fuentes totaled 15 points, five assists and four rebounds, and senior Riley Maye also reached double figures with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting to lead the Spartans. For the game, the Spartans hit 24-of-63 (38.1 percent) after shooting 48 percent in the first half. HU connected on 24-of-58 (41.4 percent). The Spartans also hit 8-of-23 (34.8 percent) from 3-point range.
Malcolm Hawksins (16.7 points per game) and Williams (15.9) are sixth and eighth, respectively in the MEAC in scoring. Goode is the Spartans leading rebounder at 6.9 per game As a team Norfolk State leads the MEAC in scoring offense (74.2 points per game) and field goal percentage (46.8). The Spartans were the preseason MEAC favorites to win the conference. They are currently in third place, two games behind North Carolina Central, who has an 11-1 conference record.
For St. Louis, who will earn his accounting in May after completing three years of college, he is not taking the Eagles’ remaining games for granted.
“Graduating in three years means a lot to me because it shows that I was able to set a goal for myself and I was able to attain it,” St. Louis said. “It was a hard goal, but I was able make things happen and it just worked out for me. I feel very blessed every time I step out on the court. There aren’t a lot of people who get the chance to play Division I ball. I know a lot of people try. Every chance I get to play; I try to make the most of my opportunity. That’s what we’re looking to do as a team in these final three games.”