During the Coppin State men’s basketball team’s recurring trips to the foul line Saturday afternoon, coach Juan Dixon held what amounted to a team meeting. As the Eagles’ free-throw shooter stood at the stripe, his four on-court teammates would migrate to the sideline, skipping on the chance for a rebound against Morgan State to instead hear a few words of wisdom inside the Physical Education Complex.
It’s become a regular feature of Coppin State games, not a bug, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s lowest-scoring offense doing everything it can to get organized on defense. These Eagles lost their first 17 games. They have needed as much help as time will allow.
And in a game as tight as Coppin State’s 80-73 overtime win against the MEAC preseason favorites, with 13 lead changes and a narrowly avoided buzzer-beating winner, it was hard to ignore every abnormality that might have been an advantage. To end a four-game losing streak in the series, to hold Bears star guard Tiwian Kendley (26 points) and do-everything forward Phillip Carr (six points) to a combined 11-for-31 shooting from the field, the Eagles had to play things differently.
“The guys that played tonight are the eight, nine guys we feel as though give us the best opportunity to have the most success on the defensive end,” Dixon said after his first taste of the city rivalry. “If we defend the way we did ... and we can make a couple of shots, we give ourselves a chance to have some success and end games with wins.”
Junior forward Chad Andrews-Fulton (Baltimore City CC), junior wing Lamar Morgan and senior guard Karonn Davis each had an efficient 20-plus points for Coppin State (2-19, 2-4 MEAC), including 11 total in the decisive overtime period.
But the Eagles, up 59-58 late in regulation, had their chances to end it before then. One possession ended with an air ball as the shot clock crept toward zero. The next possession was a Coppin State fast break — until an ill-advised, caught-in-the-air pass jump-started a fast break the other way, and a trip to the foul line for Kendley.
But Kendley missed the front end of the one-and-one, and the next time down, Morgan elevated for a contested 3-pointer. All of his makes had barely rattled the rim. This one was so off line, it bounced off the backboard — and in for a 62-58 lead.
“They knew my time would come,” Morgan said of his teammates finding him for seven of Coppin State’s eight 3-pointers and a team-high 24 points. “And now it's starting to show.”
Kendley hit a pair of free throws to cut the score in half, but stops remained scarce. Morgan, drawing attention from beyond the arc, found Andrews-Fulton cutting to the rim on a pick-and-roll, and the forward coolly dropped in a floater to restore the lead to four.
Carr kept the Bears (7-12, 3-3) close, then got them even. After he hit two free throws, it was 64-62. Morgan turned it over on Coppin State’s would-be nail-in-the-coffin possession, and Morgan State coach Bozeman had time to draw up an end-game play as the officials confirmed their call. The first option was Kendley, who missed on a tough drive, but there was Carr afterward, cleaning up the mess and drawing a foul with 6.1 seconds remaining. He hit one free throw, then the all-important second, silencing the announced 2,100 on hand, a season high.
Davis’ look at a buzzer-beating floater, after a mad dash downcourt, was clean. But it bounced high off the back rim and away, the score still even, 64-64. Five minutes later, the Eagles had won for the second time in four games, while the Bears had lost their third straight.
“Every guy, [Nos.] 1 through 13, we prepared and we got ready for this game,” said Davis, who had 22 points, six assists and one turnover in 44 minutes. “We knew it was going to be a dogfight.”
Bozeman, who did not speak to reporters afterward, must have known it was going to be a long afternoon. Just two minutes in, with Coppin State up 5-2, he called timeout after a 3-pointer by Morgan. The directives he unleashed were audible from the other side of the court. But they didn’t seem to reach his team.
The Eagles ran their lead up to 12-2 by the first media timeout, and it seemed little would change. When the teams resumed play, the Bears switched to a zone defense. That was somehow easier for Coppin State, and junior forward Cedric Council effectively ended the first-half experiment with a wide-open dunk.
Then the Eagles started to do something they couldn’t afford to: foul. Andrews-Fulton picked up his second with just over eight minutes remaining. Morgan got his second less than two minutes later. After a jumper by Davis extended Coppin State’s lead to 21-13 with 7:11 remaining, the Eagles finished the half’s final stretch with more turnovers (six) than points (four).
A put-back by Morgan State sophomore guard Stanley Davis sent the game to halftime with the score even at 25, and Coppin State to a locker room with a familiar message on the board: “KYP.” As in, “Know your personnel.”
With lead guard Dejuan Clayton sidelined by a shoulder injury, the Eagles “have to be great defensively,” Dixon said. So they studied for Saturday’s game as if it were a final exam, cramming hard and watching film until they knew what to expect, and when. The foul-line check-ins are normal by now, players said. In the path to progress, it’s just part of the process.
“Y’all see 2-18, whatever it may be,” Morgan said, referring to the team’s (slightly incorrect) record. “We see a future.”