Coppin wins fans but not game in Cincinnati rout 16-2 first-half run brightens 93-66 loss


SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- They were, however brief the moment, the adopted team of the Carrier Dome.

As the Coppin State Eagles jubilantly approached their bench with a three-point lead over No. 2 seed Cincinnati following a 16-2 run, they were met with the deafening chant of "Let's go Coppin! Let's go Coppin!" from most in the Carrier Dome crowd.

"It gave our confidence a boost," said Coppin State forward Stephen Stewart. "We felt we could play with this team."

But it was not to be for 15th-seeded Coppin State, which simply was worn down in the second half by a physically stronger Cincinnati team that ran away with a 93-66 win over the Eagles in the first round of the NCAA's East Regional.

The win enabled Cincinnati (25-4), the nation's seventh-ranked team, to continue its run at a second straight Final Four appearance. Coppin ended its season at 22-8, with its nation's longest winning streak ended at 16 games.

"We gave it 27, 28 good minutes, but then the physical aspect took over," said Coppin coach Fang Mitchell. "We were pretty confident of how to attack their defense. But we got worn down and the depth factor became very important."

Depth is what carried Coppin this season, with the Eagles' nine- and 10-man rotation helping the team finish its Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference schedule with a 19-0 record. But the depth was not a factor against a Cincinnati team that, after wearing the Eagles down, dominated both ends of the floor.

On defense, Cincinnati, which ranked third in the nation in points allowed, forced 22 turnovers. On offense, the Bearcats constantly took the ball inside, scoring 23 of their 39 field goals in the paint -- many on layups and dunks.

The physical dominance also showed up in the final rebounding statistics that had Cincinnati with a 48-29 edge -- 28-13 in the decisive second half.

"There were so many crucial rebounds they got because they were stronger and they were using their quickness," Mitchell said of the Bearcats, who had 19 offensive rebounds. "[Cincinnati] was just too aggressive."

And it was a couple of Cincinnati reserves who stepped in to play key roles in the win. Coppin was able to keep under wraps Cincinnati's talented senior guard, Nick Van Exel, who scored just seven points on 3-for-11 shooting. But senior guard Tarrance Gibson came off the bench to score a career-high 14 points, and reserve forward Curtis Bostic added 10 (5-for-5 shooting). Forward Erik Martin scored 18 (7-for-11 from the field) to lead Cincinnati.

"We worried a lot going in about Van Exel, and we held him pretty much in check," Mitchell said. "But it was the other people who really hurt us."

Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins was forced to go with his bench a little more than he's used to early after watching Coppin rally from an early 11-point deficit to take a 27-24 lead after a 16-2 run. That run ended on a layup by Tariq Saunders, which forced Huggins to call a timeout as the crowd began to rally behind Coppin.

"They were playing with a lot more confidence than us, and just being more aggressive," Martin said. "We were playing tentative. When they made that run, it stunned us."

Not enough for Cincinnati to lose its composure. The Bearcats came out of the timeout more aggressive, going on a 15-2 run -- with Gibson scoring seven points -- to take a 39-29 lead.

The lead at the half was 44-35, which Coppin had down to six, 46-40, after a layup by Michael Thomas early in the second half. But Gibson, Bostic and Corie Blount scored four points apiece during a 12-2 run that increased the lead to 58-42.

Sidney Goodman (15 points) followed with a three-pointer for Coppin, but a sequence during which Cincinnati scored five points in seven seconds -- taking advantage of rebounds on three missed free throws -- put the game away. Those five points were the start of a 12-2 run that made the final 11 minutes meaningless. Coppin trailed by as many as 29 points in suffering its worst defeat of the season.

"Our inability to get rebounds on foul shots hurt," Mitchell said. "But that was just one of the problems we had."

Still, Coppin players had no reason to hang their heads after a season in which many felt they would finish in the bottom half of the MEAC. Instead, the Eagles became just the second league team to go through the conference undefeated, and made their third postseason appearance in four years.

Still, that postseason win remains elusive. Four years ago the Eagles were beaten by Syracuse, 70-48, in a first-round NCAA tournament game. The following season resulted in a first-round loss in the National Invitation Tournament. With yesterday's loss no MEAC team has ever won an NCAA tournament game.

"It's disappointing," Mitchell said. "You want to win one of these."

But he still was proud of his team, which put on a good showing and -- briefly -- won the hearts of the crowd.

"We were never in awe and we never quit," Mitchell said. "It's just a tribute to a great bunch of kids."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad