BALTIMORE — Charles Ieans, Michael Murray and Andre Armstrong haven’t had time to process the emotional meaning of playing their final two regular home games in the Physical Education Complex. They haven’t thought about that after Monday night’s game against Howard, they will never play a college game on campus.
Instead, the trio is focused on helping the Eagles finish the regular season with a flourish and develop some much needed momentum for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) tournament that begins on March 10 in Norfolk, Va. As the Eagles welcome Maryland-Eastern Shore (Saturday, 4 p.m.) and Howard (Monday, 7:30 p.m.) to campus, they are currently in seventh place in the conference with a 6-8 record. Two wins and the Eagles will finish .500 in the conference and no worse than where they are presently sitting in the conference.
Coppin State (9-18 overall, 6-8 MEAC) leads the all-time series over UMES, 58-17. The Hawks (4-22, 2-11) have won four of the past 11 meetings against CSU, but won three in a row between 2010 and 2011.
“It’s in my mind that these are my last two home games,” Armstrong said. “I am just trying to leave my mark and perform to my highest potential and ability. I’ve always had some doubters that said I couldn’t play on this level so I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder to prove that I am capable of playing at this level.”
Armstrong, Murray and Ieans have created some special memories for the Eagle program during their time. More importantly, all three student-athletes have shined in the classroom with Murray posting a 3.96 grade point average.
Murray has played all four years for the Eagles while Armstrong and Ieans joined the team last year from junior colleges. This season, they have all taken turns to help Coppin State exceed preseason expectations. Coppin was picked to finish 10th in the MEAC preseason poll. The Eagles still have a chance to finish in a three-way tie for fifth place if things break right.
Murray has been special for Coppin State from the day he stepped on campus. Heading into his final two regular season home games, Murray has been named MEAC Player of the Week twice in his career, posted 16 doubles and scored in double figures 42 times. Last season as a junior, Murray led the MEAC in rebounding, averaging 8.9 boards per game. He was named to the preseason all-MEAC team entering this year.
“Michael is a total team player who’s willing to do all of the dirty work and play wherever we need him, inside or outside,” Coppin State head men’s basketball coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell said. “He’s a complete player. He can take over a game when he wants to. His rebounding was surprising to me. Overall, Michael has great character and has brought respect to the program.”
Murray scored a season-high 28 points against Delaware State on Dec. 7. Despite missing all of November with a broken hand, Murray leads the Eagles in scoring (14.1 points per game) and rebounding (6.9). He has scored over 900 points and grabbed 595 rebounds during his memorable career. Murray has five double-doubles this year. Not bad, for somebody who didn’t consider playing hoops after high school.
“Playing here has been a tremendous opportunity for me,” Murray said. “I didn’t even know if I would play college basketball after high school. I was just like ‘whatever happens, happens. To be here and play has been really humbling and amazing.”
Meanwhile, Armstrong has been a binge scorer for the Eagles during his career. He came to Coppin State with a good reputation. Murray, also a fellow New Yorker, had heard about Armstrong’s exploits despite having never had met him.
A sharpshooter, Armstrong has made 121 3-pointers during his career, including 49 this season. He has scored in double figures 33 times during his career and has hit for 20 or more eight times. Armstrong made eight 3-pointers in a game against Norfolk State last year. In two years, Armstrong has rung up over 650 points. He has been super consistent from the foul line, missing 41 free throws while shooting 82.1 percent in two years.
“We brought him here to be a scorer and he has done that,” Mitchell said. “He puts pressure on the defense, which has helped us offensively. Teams usually try and put one of their better defenders on him. Teams have had to worry about him when he’s on the floor. He’s been consistent and has been a hard worker.”
Ieans admitted that he’s grown immensely while playing for Mitchell. This season, Ieans had his best week when he tied a career-high with 13 points against Akron and scored 12 points against Towson four days later. Even though Ieans averages 3.3 points and 2.2 rebounds per contest, he has been a key part of Coppin State’s rotation this season. He has also done many of the little things that teams need to be successful like set screens, block out, take charges, play tough in the post and more.
“I would say my time here has been pretty good and I’ve grown a lot physically and mentally with the help of coach Mitchell,” Ieans said. “He uses a lot of off the court real life situations to teach us different things, which helps us. My game has grown a lot since I’ve been here. I got stronger and more athletic. When I first got here, I was kind of moving in slow motion, but with the coaches being on my back, I got more aggressive.”
Together, they will try to help the Eagles earn a season sweep of the Hawks. Coppin State controlled the final five minutes of the first meeting in Princess Anne on Feb. 8. The Eagles scored the last 11 points of the game to earn a 58-50 victory. Since that game, Coppin State has dropped two games to Morgan State, a game to Florida A&M and Norfolk State
Despite its overall record, UMES has been great on the offensive side of the ball as of late. The Hawks are averaging 79 points-per-game over their last five games. The 79 points per game average over the past five games is the most from a Hawk outfit in recent times, with the closest being in 2006 when UMES had a 75.8 average over five consecutive matches. The men have scored at least 72 points in every game of the span and have seen their season averages rise three points to 65.6.
The offensive spree has been generated by senior Troy Snyder, who is averaging 18.7 points and 9.0 rebounds in the past nine games. Snyder has scored at least 20 points in his last five games, including a career-high 34 against Howard on Feb. 15 in an 87-73 UMES victory.
Freshman Hakeem Baxter has earned the second-most MEAC Rookie of the Week honors in the conference this season, while freshman Devon Walker has scored at least 19 points in three of his last four games. Baxter, Snyder and junior KyRee Jones are all averaging double figures for the Hawks.
“Right now we are in a losing streak, we have to turn that around, and I believe we can do it,” Mitchell said. “I think Michael has to remain consistent, just as he has been for us. Our biggest problem is not the offense. We do score enough points to win games. But we do have to concentrate more on defense and rebounding.”
The way Armstrong sees it for the Eagles, there is still time remaining to achieve the ultimate team triumph. Coppin has battled the top teams tough this year and it was just a play or two from reversing the outcome. The Eagles will be a dangerous foe in a few weeks.
“We’re trying to leave a good legacy,” Armstrong said. “Coach hasn’t won a ring in a couple of years and that’s one thing we want to do. If you win a ring and get better then you’ll be remembered here forever. If you don’t, then there aren’t too many things people are going to remember you by unless it’s the people that were here with you. I want a ring bad. I feel accomplished if I get a ring. If not, it just feels like all I did was play here and that’s just unacceptable to me. I know we can accomplish that.”