This is the kind of loss that drives a coach to cry.
Coppin State was on the verge of knocking off top-seeded Florida A&M; in stunning fashion at yesterday's MEAC tournament semifinals. The Eagles rallied from a 20-point deficit early in the second half and were seemingly in control, leading by eight, with just over a minute to play.
But the Eagles stopped the clock by committing two costly fouls, and Florida A&M; forward Cathy Robinson took over the game. Robinson scored eight of her 22 points in the game's final minute, including a 19-foot jumper with two seconds remaining, as the Rattlers broke Coppin State's heart with a 78-76 victory at Hill Field House.
The victory sends the Rattlers (23-5) into today's MEAC championship game against Howard with a chance to earn an automatic NCAA tournament berth. The loss left Coppin State coach Tori Harrison fighting back tears.
"All I can say is I guess it wasn't in the cards for us to win today," Harrison said. "They fought so hard out there. I'm hurting for my seniors. If I could give my team the world, I would, because they work so hard for me. But we're a young team, and this is the first time a lot of them have played in a game like this."
The Eagles (14-14), who have only two seniors, looked like veterans in the second half. Trailing 49-29 early in the half, they went to a full-court press that caused the Rattlers problems, while the shots Coppin State missed throughout a rough first half began to fall.
Center Rene Doctor (23 points, 18 rebounds) and Natasha Parks (19 points) sparked a tremendous comeback by the Eagles, who cut Florida A&M;'s lead to 61-60 with 6:05 to play, then took a 62-61 lead on Doctor's layup at the 4:40 mark. Doctor scored six more points during a 12-5 run that gave the Eagles a 74-66 advantage with 1:05 left.
But the Eagles inexplicably stopped the clock twice by fouling. Robinson, who had just hit a jumper to close the gap to 74-69, made two foul shots to make it 74-71 with 53 seconds to go. After Parks made it 76-71 with two free throws, Robinson converted an offensive rebound. That was followed by a three-pointer by Rattlers forward Angela McPhaul (28 points) that tied the game at 76 with 25 seconds to go.
Robinson stole a pass near midcourt with seven seconds left, then hit the game-winner five seconds later.
Coppin committed 37 turnovers. Florida A&M; guard Natalie White, the NCAA's all-time steals leader, had 10 steals to go with 16 points.
Howard nearly blew a 20-point, second-half lead before putting away North Carolina A&T;, 72-65, in the other semifinal.
Guard Candice Hines scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead Howard. Guard Nisha Watson scored a game-high 26 points for the Aggies (19-9).
The Bison led 61-41 with 8:45 left. The Aggies cut the gap to 68-63 with 1:21 remaining. Hynes then hit four free throws to secure the win.
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference men's and women's tournaments will move to Tallahassee, Fla., for the next two years, the conference announced yesterday. They have been played in Baltimore the past two years.
The 1996 and 1997 tournaments will be played at Tallahassee's Leon County Civic Center, with Florida A&M; as the host school.