UConn guard/forward Daniel Hamilton drives around Coppin State guard Sterling Smith in the first half.
UConn guard/forward Daniel Hamilton drives around Coppin State guard Sterling Smith in the first half. (Cloe Poisson)

By his nature, Michael Grant is an optimistic person. That perspective would seem to be a good match for a Coppin State program in the midst of a brutal schedule.

The Eagles are off to a 1-9 start and are mired in a five-game skid. And with their next five non-conference opponents sporting a combined 32-15 record, the team could encounter more struggles before resuming the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference schedule.

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But Grant tried to find the silver lining – as thin as it may be – in the team's opening.

"I think it's going pretty good," he said Wednesday morning. "We've been really trying to keep the guys' spirits up and just looking forward to conference play. We're trying to stay positive. I thought that even though we lost the Connecticut game [106-85 on Sunday], I thought our guys showed a vast improvement. I thought they played with a lot of energy and a lot of confidence. That was the best fight we've had in a while. So we just need to make sure that we get through this non-conference schedule as best as we can and keep everybody's spirits up because when you look at it, there's really nobody in our conference that's really dominating or winning in the non-conference [portion] right now. So we're all pretty even. We just need to make sure that we stay together as a group and continue to get better and hopefully play our best basketball in February."

Adding to the degree of difficulty is a schedule in which Coppin State plays 12 of 15 non-conference games on the road. The team will hit the road for games at Michigan (6-4) on Monday, Eastern Michigan (8-1) on Tuesday, Evansville (5-4) on Dec. 28, and Akron (6-4) on Jan. 3 with a game against Eastern Kentucky (5-4) at home on Dec. 30.

The Eagles will play host to just 11 of 29 regular-season games, but Grant is hoping that playing on the road will sharpen the players' skills and mentality.

"It's been tough, but it has to make us a stronger team," he said. "It has to with the type of talent we've been playing against on the road. This has just been a tough road schedule for us, but I'm hoping that these guys will be able to take that experience and become a tougher team.

"There shouldn't be any other environment that we'll go into [in conference play] that will be even close to what we've been to. We've been to Oregon, Illinois, Notre Dame, UConn, Michigan. No other atmosphere in our conference is going to be close to that. So hopefully, it's going to be a great learning experience for our guys."

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