An infusion of talent has kept alive Coppin State's quest for a record fourth straight regular-season title in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, but it was the old-timers who delivered last night's 78-68 win over Florida A&M.;
With the Rattlers' 7-foot-1 sophomore center, Jerome James, giving Player of the Year candidate Terquin Mott fits inside, the Eagles were forced to turn to the perimeter and transition for some offense.
Kyle Locke had five three-pointers and a season-high 21 points, and point guard Allen Watson had a game-high eight assists and 16 points.
Locke, a guard/forward who came in averaging 4.8 points, and Watson are Coppin State's only holdovers from last season. They are the only seniors, and their teammates consist of three transfers, two Proposition 48 sophomores and three freshmen.
"Kyle stood up and played a tremendous game," coach Fang Mitchell said. "He stabilized us when things weren't going our way. That's what he's done throughout his career here. It was his kind of game. They stayed in zone, and he kept hitting the open jumper."
Coppin State (13-8, 10-1) stretched the nation's longest home win streak to 38 games and earned a first-place conference tie with South Carolina State, which it will meet twice in a four-day span next week.
It wasn't easy, however, as last-place Florida A&M; (6-17, 1-12) led for most of the first half, even though James sat down with his second foul in the eighth minute.
"We came out nonchalant, with no intensity," Mitchell said. "We expected them to lay down, and that's not just acceptable. That hasn't really been a problem lately, but we can't pick and choose who we're going to get up for."
The Eagles were clinging to a 40-38 lead three minutes into the second half, when Rattlers point guard Scientific Mapp had a bizarre run-in with referee Bob Barnett after he was knocked down on an inbounds play.
After Mapp received assistance from his bench, Barnett laid a hand on him, checking to see if he was all right. Mapp pushed the hand away and had to be restrained.
"It looked like he caught an elbow," Florida A&M; coach Mickey Clayton said of Mapp. "The referee missed it, and he thought it was intentional. The referee was just trying to calm him down. That's why we grabbed him."
No technical was called and the Eagles were whistled for three fouls in the next 15 seconds, but Locke kept his cool and his shooting touch. He scored 14 points over the next nine minutes, as Coppin State went on a 24-11 run and built a 64-49 spread.
Locke's defensive work on the perimeter was another plus, as Florida A&M; missed its first 22 attempts from three-point range. The Rattlers didn't hit a three-pointer until there were 37 seconds left.
James had 18 points and seven rebounds and limited Eagles center Mott to his worst shooting night of the MEAC season, 3-for-10. Mott had a team-high 12 rebounds.