Coppin State men's basketball coach Fang Mitchell has preached to his players this season that they are most effective when they can get everyone involved in the offense.
As a result, Mitchell, who is in his 27th season with the program, wants to see his team finish at least in double digits in assists each game. In Wednesday night's matchup against crosstown rival UMBC, the host Eagles executed that game plan perfectly to take control late in the first half and eventually cruised to a 91-71 victory.
"I think they came out and understood they had to play defense," Mitchell said. "The big thing is I thought they played together. They shared the ball. Whenever I see them with high assists, that's the way I want them to play."
Coppin State has won four consecutive games in the series, which resumed in 2009 after a nine-year hiatus. The Eagles lead the series 27-10 all-time and have not lost to UMBC in 13 years.
Michael Murray led five Eagles in double figures with 21 points, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range. Taariq Cephas had 18 points and eight assists, while Sterling Smith finished with 17 points. Arnold Fripp scored 15 points, and Brandon St. Louis added 12 for Coppin State.
"Over the last four years I've been here, this might be the most tight-knit group we've had," Murray said. "Everyone is talking. We laugh and have fun together, and it's showing on the floor."
Rodney Elliott (John Carroll) led UMBC with 16 points, while Quentin Jones (Mount St. Joseph) had 12 and Aaron Morgan finished with 11.
Coppin State (4-4) had 18 assists as a team and improved to 4-0 when it finished with double digits in that category.
"Because we have so much depth, we need to share the ball. We don't need just one person to carry the load," Mitchell said. "It's a situation where we're looking to get better as we go along."
The Retrievers (3-8) were coming off a week in which they played three games in six days. They went 1-2 over that stretch, but the all three matchups were decided by six points or fewer.
A road-weary Coppin State played five of its opening eight games on the road, including a trip to the West Coast to play California and Oregon State.
After UMBC held an early lead, the Coppin State found its rhythm and went on an 11-2 run and took a 23-17 lead on a putback by Fripp with 7:40 left in the half. Murray then scored eight points in just under two minutes to boost the margin to 14 with 4:02 remaining.
UMBC continued to chip away and a 3-pointer by Morgan in the final two minutes cut the margin to single digits. However, Smith's tip in the final seconds gave Coppin State a 43-32 lead at the break.
The Eagles scored 16 points off 12 turnovers and shot 45.5 percent (15-for-33) in the opening half.
UMBC picked up the tempo defensively in the second half, and a 3-pointer by Jones cut the margin to 49-41 with 16:10 left in the game. However, the Eagles were unfazed and Murray boosted the lead back to 15 when he converted a three-point play after he was fouled while converting a layup in traffic with 14:30 remaining.
A 3-pointer by Elliott pulled UMBC to within 63-52 with 10:36 left. However, the Eagles were too strong on this night and another 3-pointer by Fripp with six minutes remaining increased the lead back to 21.
Bowie State 98, District of Columbia 75: Ray Gatling and Carlos Smith each scored 20 points to lead the host Bulldogs (6-4) past the Firebirds (1-6).
Bowie State shot 50 percent from the field in the first half to take a 49-34 lead at the break. The Bulldogs' largest lead, 23 points, came with 14:05 left in the game.
Lenjo Kilo finished with a game-high 32 points for UDC.
Penn State-Harrisburg 59. Frostburg State 58: Jabari Kamu (16 points) scored five points in the final 1:11, including a layup with 57 seconds left to bring the visiting Bobcats (0-7, 0-2 Capital Athletic Conference) within one point, but no closer.
The Lions improved to 3-4, 1-1. Frostburg led 30-26 at halftime. but the lead began slipping in the final six minutes.
Messiah 70, Hood 65: The host Falcons (8-0, 4-0 Commonwealth Conference) closed the game out on a 28-18 run.
Messiah took the lead with 10 minutes left in the game and never gave it up. Chris Cook led the Blazers (3-3, 1-2) with 13 points.
Bowie State 91, Washington Adventist 56: All 14 Bulldogs scored, led by Denver Clyde with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Host Bowie (5-1) outscored the Shock (4-8) 57-27 in the second half to pull away.
Penn State-Harrisburg 90, Frostburg State 82: Simone Wise had 15 points for the visiting Bobcats (2-5, 1-1 Capital Athletic Conference).
The Lions improved to 4-5, 1-2..
Messiah 74, Hood 39: Verkia Smith had 14 points in a losing effort for the visiting Blazers (1-5, 0-3 Commonwealth Conference).
The Falcons (5-3, 1-2) opened with a 5-0 run and led 45-16 at halftime.
Baltimore Sun staff contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun