In the opening minutes of yesterday's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals, it was apparent that top-seeded Coppin State would not collapse the way it did in the first round last year.
By the middle of the second half, it was obvious that these Eagles weren't about to ruin a great season .
Senior forward Tariq Saunders scored a game-high 17 points, and senior center Michael Thomas scored nine of his 14 points during a decisive second-half run, as the Eagles cruised to an 83-57 rout over No. 8 seed Delaware State at Hill Field House.
The victory, Coppin State's 16th straight, moves the Eagles (19-8) into today's MEAC tournament semifinals against Bethune-Cookman. Coppin State is trying to get back to the NCAA tournament for the third time in the 1990s, and for the first time since 1993.
"We were a little tight early, but there's no question that we loosened up as the game progressed," Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell said. "Rather than dwell on the past, we looked at what we did wrong last year and looked to improve on it. The main thing was we didn't play as hard as we could. This group is not going to go out that way."
Except for some spotty shooting in the first half, when the Eagles scored only one point over the final six minutes and took a 32-22 halftime lead, Coppin State overwhelmed the Hornets (7-21).
Six players scored in double figures for the Eagles, who ran off 51 points in the second half and turned over the ball just four times overall.
Defensively, the Eagles forced 17 turnovers and harassed Delaware State all day with halfcourt traps and pressured its outside shooters. Forward Andre Griffin, fresh off a 30-point effort in Wednesday's play-in victory over Florida A&M;, managed only eight points and went 0-for-6 from three-point range. The Eagles also grabbed 17 offensive rebounds to Delaware State's seven.
Anderson Herbert led Delaware State with 12 points. Center Chris Nurse, the Hornets' leading scorer, was held to seven.
Senior forward Stephen Stewart added 13 points and eight rebounds for Coppin State, but Saunders nearly stole the show by hitting four of six three-point attempts, including three during an 11-point first half.
"We've got to play every game like it's our last game," said Saunders, who has struggled with his outside shot this year. "Today, I was feeling it. I was confident. We're all seniors, we know what to expect."
The Eagles jumped out to leads of 18-6 and 27-17 in the first half, but their offense bogged down over the half's final six minutes. That's when Coppin defense took over, forcing turnovers on seven straight Hornets possessions to protect the lead.
The teams traded baskets for the first eight minutes of the second half, but then Coppin went on a 22-6 run.