BALTIMORE, Md. – Fresh off of a four-day break to enjoy the Christmas holiday, the Coppin State men’s basketball team returned to practice Thursday to start preparations for a difficult trip to Ohio to meet Mid-American Conference schools Toledo and Akron.
The Eagles (4-7 overall) face undefeated Toledo (11-0) in a Saturday matinee at Savage Arena beginning at 2:00 p.m. This is the fourth stop on a season-high five-game road trip for Coppin State. The Eagles lost a pair of games last weekend at the BVI Tropical Shootout in the British, Virgin Islands to Southern Mississippi (88-74) and Jacksonville State (72-61).
Coppin State has never lost to Toledo, winning both meetings against the Rockets, 77-73 in overtime (1989) and 87-66 (1990). Overall, Coppin State is 5-6 all-time against schools from the Mid-American Conference. The Eagles aren’t approaching this game any differently because Toledo is one of nine NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams without a loss.
“We don’t look at this game any differently than we would any other one,” Coppin State head coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell said. “It’s the biggest game of the year because it’s our next one. For us it doesn’t matter who the opponent is because you’re out there to win the game. My guys know that if we don’t play hard and execute that we could have some problems.”
Coppin State senior forward Michael Murray averaged 18 points per game in both games last weekend. He scored a team-high 23 points against Southern Mississippi. Murray has led CSU in scoring in its last five games. In the two games against Southern Miss and Jacksonville State, Murray shot 52 percent (13 for 25). Overall, for the season, Murray is one of three Coppin State players averaging double figures. He leads the team in scoring with a 15.7 point per game average.
Also averaging double figures for the Eagles are sophomore guard Sterling Smith (12.3 points per game) and junior guard Taariq Cephas (11.5). Smith has scored in double figures seven times this season for the Eagles. He had a season-high 21 points to fuel Coppin State’s upset of Oregon State on Nov. 10. Cephas leads the Eagles with 49 assists. He had his first career double-double with 12 points and 10 assists against Delaware State on Dec. 7.
Cephas is also one of the best foul shooters in the nation as he has made 36-of-40 free throws, including 22 straight. His 90 percent success rate leads from the charity stripe the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. He was 10-for-10 from the foul line against UMBC on Dec. 11. Junior guard Daquan Brickhouse is fourth in the MEAC in free-throw percentage as he has made 24-of-29 free throws (82.8 percent).
During its two games in the British Virgin Islands, Coppin State averaged 28 free-throw attempts per game. The Eagles are ranked 21st nationally in free-throw shooting percentage. Senior guard Andre Armstrongaveraged 9.5 points per game in the two games and was 9-for-10 from the foul line against Southern Mississippi.
Meanwhile, Toledo is 11-0 for the first time since the 1966-67 season following its 71-67 victory over Cleveland State last Saturday. Toledo junior J.D. Weatherspoon scored a career-high 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the win for the Rockets, who are the first MAC school to be 11-0 since Ball State in 1998-99. Joining Weatherspoon in double digits was sophomore center Nathan Boothe (14 pts., 8 reb.) and senior guard Rian Pearson (11 pts., 5 reb.).
In addition to moving up into the No. 3 spot in CollegeInsider.com’s Mid-Major Poll rankings, the Rockets received considerable support in this week’s Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Polls. UT received 27 points in the Associated Press Poll, 24 more than last week’s total and received 13 points in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 poll.
Only Wichita State (12-0) and Harvard (10-1) were ranked ahead of Toledo in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Poll with the Rockets (717 pts.) trailing Harvard (720 pts.) by just three points. Also appearing in the poll’s Top 10 were No. 4 Gonzaga (10-2), No. 5 Saint Mary’s (9-1), No. 6 Manhattan (9-2), No. 7 Indiana State (8-3), No. 8 Green Bay (8-3), No. 9 Princeton (9-2) and No. 10 Drexel (8-3).
All five of Toledo’s starters are averaging in double figures in the scoring column, led by senior Pearson at 16.1 ppg. He is followed by junior guard Justin Drummond (14.9 ppg), junior guard Julius Brown (12.8 ppg), Weatherspoon (11.3 ppg) and Boothe (10.7 ppg).
Coppin State concludes its five-game road trip with a matchup Tuesday against Akron beginning at 6 p.m.