He goes by the nickname of "Warrior" and, unfortunately for the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Coppin State forward Tariq Saunders was at his battling best last night.
The 6-foot-6, 210-pound sophomore scored 28 points and grabbed 15 rebounds -- both career highs -- as Coppin defeated UMBC, 84-74, before 1,464 at the UMBC Fieldhouse. It was Coppin's first victory at UMBC since the 1985-86 season.
Saunders did most of his damage in the second half, when he scored 16 points and pulled 12 rebounds. The key line on Saunders was his offensive rebounds: He grabbed nine in the second half including, seemingly, every key offensive board in the final five minutes that helped thwart a UMBC comeback.
"They call me 'Warrior' because I'm always getting the offensive rebounds," said Saunders, who averaged 4.6 points and 2.6 rebounds last year as a freshman. "I'm playing the four spot this year and I just feel more comfortable and confident out there. I'm getting more inside scoring instead of taking jump shots."
Coppin (3-2) won despite shooting 35 percent in the second half and 44.6 percent for the game. It helped that UMBC (1-4) hit 45.8 percent from the field, committed 28 turnovers and, despite a size advantage, was out-rebounded, 44-38.
"We were just generally outworked," said UMBC coach Earl Hawkins, whose team came into the game fresh off a surprise appearance in the championship game of the Beltway Classic. "Saunders had an excellent game. They just worked us on the boards. We just have to give a better effort."
Hawkins didn't get the effort he was accustomed to from sophomore center Soni Nixon and junior forward Brian Watkins, both of whom were named to the all-tournament team in the Beltway Classic. The 6-foot-8 Nixon, who entered the game the team's leading scorer (18.3) and rebounder (14.8), had 13 points and just three rebounds in 21 minutes. Watkins, who entered averaging 11.3 points per game, had four on 2-for-5 shooting from the field.
"We were worried about their inside game, especially Nixon," said Coppin coach Fang Mitchell. "I have to give our interior players a lot of credit, because we were much smaller."
Coppin led 45-40 at the half, but UMBC stayed close and eventually tied the game at 53 on a Watkins layup just over five minutes in. But Coppin responded with a 16-4 run, the last points on two free throws by Saunders, to take its biggest lead, 69-57.
The closest UMBC would get the rest of the way was five, after a Derell Thompson three-pointer made it 79-72 inside of two minutes. The Eagles finished the game hitting five of six from the line.
Saunders was one of five players in double figures. James Mazyck had 17, Darren Woods 13, Keith Carmichael 12 and Larry Yarbray 10. Yarbray, just back from a three-game suspension after missing three practices over the Thanksgiving weekend, also had five steals.
"He played real hard tonight," Mitchell said of Yarbray. "With him back it relieves the pressure on Mazyck, who was playing well at point guard."
UMBC had three players in double figures, with guard Skip Saunders scoring 15 points, Derell Thompson 14 (with a team-high 10 rebounds) and Nixon's 13.
Coppin State returns home next Monday, when it will host Youngstown State at the Coppin Center. UMBC will try to avenge the loss in the Beltway Classic championship when it travels to Reitz Arena to face Loyola on Saturday.
COPPIN STATE (3-2) -- Mazyck 7-13 3-4 17, T. Saunders 10-22 8-12 28, Howard 0-1 0-0 0, Carmichael 5-11 2-2 12, Johnson 1-4 0-0 2, Yarbray 4-9 2-4 10, Goodman 0-3 0-0 0, Woods 5-7 3-4 13, Hammond 1-4 0-0 2. Totals: 33-74 18-26 84.
UMBC (1-4) -- Thompson 4-13 5-5 14, Wadkins 2-5 0-3 4, Nixon 5-10 3-4 13, Harris 4-7 0-0 8, S. Saunders 5-11 4-4 15, Ferguson 1-1 0-0 2, Wright 3-7 0-0 6, Andrews 2-2 0-2 4, Franklin 0-2 2-2 2, Fasaye 0-0 2-2 2, Bellinger 1-1 2-3 4. Totals: 27-59 18-25 74.
Halftime--Coppin State, 45-40. 3-point goals--CS 0-5 (Mazyck 0-3, T. Saunders 0-1, Carmichael 0-1); UMBC 2-8 (Thompson 1-2, S. Saunders 1-4, Wright 0-2). Rebounds--CS 44 (T. Saunders 15); UMBC 38 (Thompson 10). Assists--CS 10 (Mazyck and Yarbray, 4 apiece); UMBC 15 (Wadkins and Franklin, 4 apiece). Total fouls--CS 20, UMBC 21. Fouled out--None. Technical fouls--None. A--1,464.