Coppin State is bracing for a few more weeks without senior small forward Michael Murray, who led the Eagles last season with 12.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game but is out with a broken right (shooting) hand. But the team might be in good shape during Murray's absence.
Sophomore shooting guard Sterling Smith scored a career-high 16 points in Friday's 83-64 loss to California, then had 21 points in Sunday's 78-73 win against Oregon State.
Through the Eagles' first two games, the 6-foot-4 Smith is averaging 18.5 points and 5.5 rebounds and is shooting 63.6 percent from the floor and 58.3 percent from 3-point range. Last year, Smith averaged 5.2 points and 4.1 rebounds and shot 42.3 and 32.9 percent, respectively.
Smith has been complemented by junior small forward Arnold Fripp, who is averaging 14 points and eight rebounds. The 6-7 Fripp, who helped Monroe Community College in New York finish fifth at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national tournament in March, is one of four former Tribunes on the Eagles' roster, along with senior shooting guard Andre Armstrong, junior small forward Dallas Gary and junior shooting guard Jahvari Josiah.
Smith and Fripp have helped ease the sting of Murray's absence, just as coach Fang Mitchell hoped they would.
"We recognize that we were going to have to get contributions from other people with Michael being out," Mitchell said. "People are stepping up, and it has allowed us to understand that, in the end, if we keep our heads right and keep working, when Michael comes back, we have that possibility of having a real good team. It's not good that Michael is out, but it has helped some other people get an opportunity to step in and fill in for him."
UMBC failing to reap free throws
UMBC avoided a potentially embarrassing loss by outlasting visiting Division III Eastern, 84-79, in overtime Monday night at RAC Arena. The Retrievers (1-1) know they have some work to do.
One concern is the team's poor free-throw shooting. UMBC made just 54.0 percent of its free throws (27 of 50) against Eastern, and is shooting 50.7 percent for the season.
Coach Aki Thomas acknowledged that the team must improve from the line as the year unfolds.
"Right now, it's a concern," he said. "We're two games in, and I wouldn't want that percentage to be a stat that we're talking about in February. So we've been putting in extra time and shooting a lot more free throws and really paying attention to what we're doing in practice with our free-throw shooting and how we're doing them. Guys have been coming in and getting a lot of extra free-throw shooting in. It's something we've been paying attention to even before we started playing games. We saw it as an issue. It's going to take some time, but hopefully, it doesn't take too much time."
This week's state schedule
COPPIN: vs. Wagner (Monday)
LOYOLA: vs. Fairfield (Saturday), @ UMBC (Wednesday)
MARYLAND: vs. Oregon State (Sunday)
MORGAN: vs. Ohio (Wednesday)
MOUNT ST. MARY'S: @ Brigham Young (tonight, 9), @ UMBC (Sunday), @ UMES (Wednesday)
NAVY: @ Binghamton (Saturday), @ Virginia (Tuesday)
TOWSON: @ Villanova (Sunday)
UMBC: vs. Mount St. Mary's (Sunday), vs. Loyola (Wednesday)
UMES: vs. Mount St. Mary's (Wednesday)