Coppin State followed a familiar pattern against visiting Howard last night, and coach Fang Mitchell is growing tired of watching it.
The Eagles, the hottest team in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, looked that way in the opening minutes. But then came the turnovers.
Thanks to their sloppiness, the Eagles blew two chances to put away the Bison early. But Coppin State fell back on its reliable resources -- defense and free-throw shooting.
The Eagles also got a lift in crunch time from guard Keith Carmichael. With 31 seconds left, after Howard forward Phil Chenier converted a three-point play to pull the Bison to within six points, Carmichael made a three-point shot, his only basket of the half. Forward Stephen Stewart then made two foul shots with 12 seconds left, as the Eagles came away with a 72-63 victory that was long on grit and short on style.
"At times, we seem like we're in control of the game, but we haven't learned how to drop the hammer and end it, like we've done for the past two years," Mitchell said.
"I give Howard credit. They just kept coming and coming. Every team is capable of quitting, but you have to make them quit, and I don't think we've done a good job of that."
The Eagles (12-8, 9-1) won their ninth straight, their 27th straight at home -- second-best in the nation -- and maintained their grip on first place in the MEAC by 1 1/2 games over South Carolina State.
Coppin State also made 1,189 spectators squirm while winning. The Eagles, coming off a 21-turnover victory over Morgan State, had 20 turnovers last night, many of them unforced. Junior point guard Allen Watson was guilty of six turnovers.
Mitchell reinserted Sidney Goodman at the point to start the second half, and Goodman responded with nine of his 12 points after the break. He also settled down the offense as he has done so often.
Still, the Eagles, who led early, 20-11, but nearly blew that lead before taking a 32-26 lead at halftime, saw another chance to take out the Bison (7-12, 6-3) go to waste. The Eagles opened the second half with a 12-5 run to take a 44-31 lead four minutes into the half. Howard, which was playing without center Grady Livingston (foot injury) and forward Art Crowder (one-game disciplinary suspension), started chipping away at the lead behind Chenier (team-high 17 points).
Twice in the final three minutes, the Bison cut the lead to six. Chenier's three-point play cut the lead to 67-61 with 1:03 left. But the Eagles, whose resources outweigh their shortcomings, wavered only briefly.
"We're an experienced group of guys," said Stewart, whose 20 points and seven rebounds paced the Eagles. "All in all, we didn't play that badly. Our offense sputtered, but our defense pulled us through."
Indeed, the Eagles, the top defensive team in the MEAC, clamped down when it counted most. They held Howard to 34.3 percent shooting in the second half.
Coppin beat Howard by 19 points a week ago, and with the way the Eagles began, it appeared they would get another rout started early.
Watson was outstanding in the early going. He opened by slashing through the Howard defense for a layup, then coverting a three-point play after getting fouled. Watson then dished off to Carmichael twice for three-pointers.
Carmichael's second three put the Eagles in front 18-9. A tip-in by Michael Thomas made it 20-11, and all appeared to be going smoothly for the Eagles.
Then, Coppin State inexplicably got sloppy with the ball, and its momentum bogged down. During one stretch, the Eagles committed a turnover on five straight possessions, while Howard slowly crept back into contention.