SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- When Coppin State's leading scorers, Larry Stewart and Reggie Isaac, came out shooting bricks in last night's National Invitation Tournament game at Southwest Missouri State, Eagles coach Fang Mitchell knew the end of his team's season was in sight.
We have a philosophy here," Mitchell said, "of going with the known and leaving the unknown alone. When the big boys we look for to carry us . . . aren't hitting, then we have problems."
Coppin State's problems resulted in a season-ending, 57-47, loss for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season champions. The Eagles finished 19-11.
Stewart and Isaac, each of whom averaged 24 points a game for the season, were shut down -- relatively -- by the Southwest Missouri defense. When the two combined to shoot 8-for-19 in the first half, the Eagles had no backup plan.
"You can't make adjustments like that at the last minute," Mitchell said.
Stewart finished with 20 points and shot 8-for-14. Isaac was 6-for-19 for 15 points. The Eagles shot 40 percent (19-for-47) from the field. Southwest Missouri shot 43.5 percent (20-for-46).
"It boiled down to a defensive struggle," Mitchell said. I knew [Southwest Missouri coach] Charlie [Spoonhour] would have his team playing good defense, and we play good defense -- teams shot 41 percent against us this year. We made a run in the second half, but we hit a dead spot with seven minutes left in the game."
Isaac said Southwest Missouri "played pretty good defense, but we missed some shots that we should have hit."
The Eagles trailed, 23-20, at halftime. James Mazyck hit a three-pointer (his only points of the game) to start a 7-0 Coppin run at the beginning of the second half.
Southwest Missouri came back to tie the game at 37 on Arnold Bernard's three-pointer with 8:32 remaining. The Bears moved ahead by 40-39 on free throws from Ryan Thornton and Darryl Reid, and closed the game with a 17-8 run led by Andre Rigsby's three-pointer with 5:39 to go.
"We hit a dead spot with about seven minutes left in the game," Mitchell said. "Rigsby made a big three-pointer, and from that point on we were fighting for our lives."
At the beginning, the game more closely resembled a preseason game than a postseason one. Both teams missed their first three shots before Rigsby hit a three-pointer with 18:05 remaining in the half.
Southwest Missouri led 7-6 with 12:05 remaining before waking up the unusually quiet Hammons Student Center crowd of 7,501 with a 6-0 run capped by Reid's steal and layup.
Bernard, the Bears' 5-foot-5 spark plug, was shut down by a combination of a bad cold and the Eagles' defense. He played 25 minutes and scored 11 points, seven in the second half.
"The key here was containment of Bernard," Mitchell said. "We broke down on that containment about halfway through the second half."
Reid, Bernard's backcourt mate, and backup Dale Ribble spent more time than usual at Bernard's point-guard position. Bernard sat out 7 1/2 minutes before returning to hit the big three-pointer.
"It was obvious that Arnold wasn't feeling well," Spoonhour said. But I don't need to make excuses for him. After his rest, he finally got his brain back, too."
Reid scored 14 points to pace Southwest Missouri (22-11.)
The Eagles were making their first NIT appearance. Coppin State lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season.
Southwest Missouri went 2-1 in the 1986 NIT before making four straight NCAA appearances. The Bears lost to Creighton in the final of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.