Frustration from a second-half collapse led Morgan State forward Rasheed Sparks to his final act last night against Coppin State. The game just over, Sparks grabbed the basketball and heaved it about 10 rows into the crowd behind the east basket.
An overflow crowd of 5,022 crammed Hill Field House to watch Morgan State make a statement. A win would have clinched the second seed in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament and given the Bears a regular-season sweep over their biggest rival for the first time in a decade.
Instead, Morgan State suffered a second-half meltdown against the inspired Coppin State defense and was beaten, 71-61.
Morgan (13-13, 12-6) failed to gain an upper hand over a Coppin team that has dominated the Bears -- and the MEAC -- for the past decade. A win would have allowed Morgan to clinch its first winning season since 1989.
Coppin (15-13, 14-4), which will get the second seed in next week's MEAC tournament in Richmond, Va., kept its hopes alive for a share of the league's regular-season championship with South Carolina State (15-10, 14-3), which would have to lose its finale tonight at North Carolina A&T.;
"This was a big win for us," said Coppin forward Fred Warrick. "'You never want to go into the tournament with a loss."
Warrick recovered from a slow first half to finish with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Point guard Jorge Cajigas had a game-high 23 points -- 11 coming in the first four minutes when Coppin built a 10-point lead.
"Somebody had to step up," said Cajigas, who has scored in double figures in all but six games this season. "When no one else is scoring, somebody has to get it done."
And somebody had to get it done on Coppin's front line, which was thoroughly outplayed in a 67-66 overtime home loss to Morgan in December. Last night, the Eagles got solid efforts from reserve forward Tyran Watkins (eight points, three blocks), Kofi Pointer (eight points, eight rebounds) and Dorian Pena (seven rebounds).
"[Watkins] was important because they had blocked a few shots of ours and then he came in and blocked a few," said Coppin coach Fang Mitchell. "That just shows we weren't backing down like we did the last time when they blocked some shots [nine] and intimidated us."
In the December game, Coppin was not playing the tenacious defense it had been noted for, leading to a dismal start of the season. Last night when it counted, Coppin limited Morgan to 26.5 percent shooting in the second half (35.7 percent for the game), silencing a crowd that had been extremely vocal in the first half when the Bears led by as many as eight points.
Morgan's victory in December set off a wild celebration at the Coppin Center, with players jumping on the press table and coach Chris Fuller shedding a tear.
Last night, the Bears walked off the court quiet and disappointed but with this thought in mind: Wins by both teams in the opening round of the MEAC tournament would set up a third meeting next Friday in the semifinals.
COPPIN STATE -- Pointer 4-5 0-0 8, Seamon 3-10 2-3 9, Cajigas 7-14 5-6 23, Warrick 5-12 5-8 15, Pena 2-6 0-2 4, Sims 1-1 2-2 4, Watkins 3-5 2-2 8. Totals 25-53 16-23 71.
MORGAN STATE -- Demory 0-9 0-0 0, Fields 3-13 0-0 8, Sparks 4-11 1-2 11, King 9-16 0-0 18, Lewis 3-3 0-1 6, Reece 0-2 0-0 0, McBride 1-1 1-2 3, Van Hook 4-11 3-7 13, Herron 1-2 0-0 2, Qualls 0-2 0-2 0. Totals 25-70 5-14 61.
Halftime--Morgan, 36-32. 3-point goals--CS 5-15 (Cajigas 4-8, Seamon 1-5, Warrick 0-2); MS 6-26 (Van Hook 2-5, Sparks 2-6, Fields 2-7, Demory 0-8). Rebounds--CS 46 (Warrick 10); MS 36 (Sparks 11). Assists--CS 9 (Cajigas 3); MS 15 (Fields 6). Fouled out--Seamon. Total fouls--CS 13, MS 17. A--5,022.
Pub Date: 2/26/99