RALEIGH, N.C. -- Though it will be played more than 300 miles to the south, it will be an all-Baltimore final tonight at the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference men's tournament.
With Coppin State's exciting 67-65 win over Norfolk State last night, the Eagles brought themselves within one win of returning to the NCAA tournament. Standing in their way is cross-town rival Morgan State, which beat Delaware State in the night's other semifinal.
"It's going to be a real tough game," Eagles senior Antwan Harrison said. "Both teams are going to want it bad, just for the rights back in Baltimore. Whoever wins here, back home, is going to be the talk of the town."
Last night, after Coppin relinquished a 13-point lead, Tywain McKee made two free throws with 1:02 to play to break a 65-65 tie and push the Eagles into tonight's title game at the RBC Center.
At stake is an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. It would be a first in Division I for Morgan State, while Coppin has made three previous trips, most memorably in 1997, when coach Fang Mitchell's 15th-seeded Eagles shocked South Carolina, a No. 2 seed.
"We talk all the time about trying to bring back the legacy to Coppin," Eagles senior Julian Conyers said. "Coach always talks about how they were so great back in the '90s, how they were such a good team. We struggled the past couple of years, but this year we knew if we could stick together, we could be one of those good Coppin teams."
With a win today, Coppin (15-20) - still the lone MEAC team to notch an NCAA tournament victory - would take a sub-.500 record to the NCAA tournament.
The seventh-seeded Eagles have won three games here by a total of four points. They beat 10th-seeded Howard in the first round, 55-54, and then upset No. 2 seed Hampton in overtime in the quarterfinals, 75-74.
Coppin, which opened league play 0-8 and was somewhat of an afterthought at this week's tournament, slowly built a double-digit lead, and by the time Conyers converted a midcourt steal into a thunderous dunk early in the second half, Coppin led 41-28.
But Norfolk State (16-15) started finding its three-point stroke and chipped away at the Eagles lead. With 10:01 left, the Spartans' Tony Murphy, who had five three-pointers in the second half, made one from 2 feet behind the arc to tie the game at 50.
The score remained close late as both teams struggled from the field. Coppin's final field goal came with 5:55 left, but the Eagles shot 4-for-6 from the free-throw line while holding the Spartans scoreless for the final five minutes.
McKee scored 26 points to lead the Eagles, and Robert Pressey had eight points and 14 rebounds.
Tonight's championship appearance punctuates college basketball's best turnaround story of the season.
At one point this season, Coppin lost 17 of 18 games. But Mitchell revamped the starting lineup and the Eagles responded by winning eight of their final nine regular-season games.
COPPIN STATE-Miller 2-5 2-2 6, McKee 8-14 8-11 26, Conyers 4-12 0-0 9, Harrison 4-9 1-3 10, Pressey 3-6 2-2 8, Goldsberry 1-5 0-0 2, Duncan 2-11 0-3 6, Chesnut 0-0 0-0 0, Kucinskas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-62 13-21 67. NORFOLK STATE-Murphy 7-16 0-0 20, Cann 0-1 0-0 0, Monroe 4-5 0-0 9, Lyons 3-10 1-3 7, Vickers 0-1 0-0 0, Deloach 5-14 4-8 15, Dorsett-Jeffreys 5-6 2-6 12, Worsley 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 25-57 7-17 65. Half-Coppin 34-26. 3-point goals-Coppin 6-17 (McKee 2-3, Duncan 2-3, Harrison 1-2, Conyers 1-6, Goldsberry 0-1, Miller 0-2), Norfolk 8-20 (Murphy 6-12, Monroe 1-1, Deloach 1-4, Lyons 0-3). Rebounds-Coppin 38 (Pressey 14), Norfolk 43 (Lyons, Monroe 7). Assists-Coppin 10 (Duncan 3), Norfolk 12 (Deloach 6). Total fouls-Coppin 14, Norfolk 19. Technical-Monroe. A-6,779.