Starting the day in fifth place, the Bison, Mitchell said, had nothing to lose.
But after shooting 25 percent in the first half, it was the Eagles who played that role, going for broke with long jumpers. They hit five three-pointers in their first six baskets of the second half and rolled to a 71-57 victory before 1,750.
"Our concentration just wasn't there early in the game," said Coppin's Sidney Goodman, who scored 17 despite hitting just two shots from the field. "In the second half, when I caught the ball I looked for double teams and got the ball outside."
But the Eagles' brief outburst was their only one, in a game that saw more action at the free-throw line than in the field. Coppin hit 30 of 41 foul shots to stay in the game early, then pull away in the second half.
"We're among the leaders in foul shooting in the league, so I had a lot of confidence in them going down the stretch," Mitchell said. "We didn't shoot the ball well in the first half, but we were able to hit our free throws."
The league-leading Eagles improved to 12-7, including 9-0 in MEAC play. The win was their 10th in the past 11 games.
Early on, however, a win seemed far from a certainty. Coppin looked sluggish throughout the first half, failing to move the ball against a packed-in Howard zone and getting only perimeter shots as a result.
And for a while, the Eagles were ice cold from the field.
They made five of their first 24 shots -- including eight in a row midway through the half -- consistently misfiring from the perimeter.
But a tenacious man-to-man defense kept Coppin in the game. The Eagles forced 12 Bison turnovers in the half and trailed 20-16 4:35 before halftime. That's when Stephan Stewart began to take over.
The 6-foot-5 sophomore scored 13 of Coppin's final 15 points in the half -- on short jumpers and foul shots -- and helped give the Eagles a 29-24 lead at the break. Stewart scored 18 at that point.
But that was all he would score, as the Bison double- and 'D sometimes triple-teamed him. Instead, the Eagles looked to Goodman (17 points) and Kyle Locke (nine).
"We didn't make enough changes," Howard coach Butch Beard said. "[Coppin] gutted it out. Obviously they're a very good team and the class of the league."