COPPIN, UMBC DANCING

The Baltimore Sun

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It ended the way Coppin State had hoped, the ball and the game in Tywain McKee's hands, and the clock running down last night in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship game.

Coppin couldn't have been in better hands.

McKee took Morgan State's Marquise Kately down the lane, then dropped in a floater with three seconds left to lift the seventh-seeded Eagles past the top-seeded Bears, 62-60, last night at the RBC Center.

McKee's heroics - he scored 33 points and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding player - earned the school its fourth NCAA tournament berth and first since the Eagles stunned South Carolina as a No. 15 seed in 1997.

Coppin (16-20) becomes the 20th team with a losing record to make the NCAA tournament. The last to do so was Oakland, from the Mid-Continent Conference, which went in with a 12-18 record in 2005.

Almost certainly, the Eagles will draw the play-in game at Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday.

It's an improbable finish for a team that stood 4-19 and 0-8 in the MEAC after losing to Delaware State on Feb. 2. But the Eagles won 12 of their past 13 games - the only loss was at Morgan in the regular-season finale - to accomplish a monumental turnaround.

"We lost to Morgan by 28 at home [in December]," coach Fang Mitchell said. "From there, to come out and play the way we played, it can't be any sweeter than this."

Coppin swept four games in the tournament by a total of six points, beating the top three seeds along the way. The upset of Morgan capped a glorious day for the school, whose women captured an NCAA berth earlier in the day with a 72-70 championship-game victory over No. 1 seed North Carolina A&T.;

The Eagles also became the third Maryland school to qualify for the Division I men's tournament, joining UMBC, which won the America East tournament yesterday, and Mount St. Mary's, champions of the Northeast Conference tournament.

The all-Baltimore final turned out to be a bitter defeat for Morgan (22-10). The Bears played without Jamar Smith, their leading scorer and the MEAC Player of the Year, who has a lingering bone bruise on his left foot.

Despite the loss, Morgan will still achieve its first Division I postseason berth. By virtue of winning the regular-season title, they have earned a berth in the National Invitation Tournament.

Kately led Morgan with 21 points, 15 in the first half when the Bears had success inside against Coppin's 1-3-1 zone.

The Bears, however, had no answer for McKee, who set a school record for points in a MEAC tournament game. McKee strapped the Eagles on his back late in the first half and carried them to the finish line.

He hit 12 of 20 from the field and six of eight from three-point range in 39 tireless minutes. He was at his best down the stretch, though.

With three minutes left, McKee ripped a rebound out of the hands of Morgan's Boubacar Coly and banked it in for a 55-52 lead.

After Morgan's Jermaine Bolden tied the game at 60 with two free throws with 29 seconds left, the game was in McKee's hands.

He walked slowly up the court, letting the clock wind down, then started down the lane against Kately with eight seconds left. Eight feet from the basket, he launched a floater that changed the destiny of two teams.

"I practice the floater every day," McKee said. "If I can't get to the hole, I've got to pull up and shoot the floater."

The Bears' Reggie Holmes raced down the right side for a desperation shot, but his three-pointer was off the mark.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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