His players would not be available postgame, not after this loss, so Coppin State men's basketball coach Michael Grant went long when he heard the question Monday night, as if he had borrowed time from the Eagles players hurting in the locker room.
Coppin had come into its home game against Norfolk State atop the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference standings, and now, after a lopsided second half produced a dispiriting 74-64 loss, Grant was asked what his team would have to do to better handle the prosperity that for so long had eluded the Physical Education Complex in Baltimore.
He spoke for nearly two minutes. He talked about being coachable, about being "the best cheerleader that you can be." He invoked his own record in MEAC play, which before this year had been subpar. Mostly, though, he said the Eagles needed to know they could no longer pass through this season unnoticed. They would have to reckon with a new reality.
"They have a target, and everybody wants to beat them now and everybody's talking about Coppin State right now, so now they have to be able to handle it," he said. "And to be successful, they have to be coachable."
For one half Monday, Coppin (5-16, 4-2) was successful. The other half, though, was a buzzkill for much of the announced 677.
Morgan State, also playing Monday before its much-anticipated rivalry game Saturday against the host Eagles, had held up its end of the bargain, still a one-loss team in league play after a comeback victory over South Carolina State. Coppin, meanwhile, "took a step back today," Grant said, "instead of moving forward."
Maybe more accurately, the Eagles took one step forward and two steps back. After all, they'd held the Spartans (7-13, 4-2) to 22 points in the first 20 minutes. But Norfolk State needed just 10:11 after halftime to duplicate its first-half scoring output.
Less than three minutes later, the game was tied, 49-49, for the first time since the opening tipoff. Befitting a game in which Coppin's defense seemed to disappear, the Spartans at last took the lead with a shot that never went in. Alex Long's layup rimmed out, and the Eagles took the rebound, but a whistle cut the air as the basket shook. After a short conference among the officials, the call came: basket interference on Coppin. The next time down the court, Jonathan Wade (game-high 23 points) rose for a 3-pointer. When it came down, Coppin State trailed 59-55.
Improvements were only temporary for the Eagles. Junior guard Tre' Thomas (team-high 14 points) hit one of two free throws, and it was back to a one-possession game. Then Kyle Williams hit another trey, Norfolk State scored seven of the next nine points, and any memories of an uncompetitive first half were banished for good.
"We couldn't guard them man-to-man, and then we went zone, and then we couldn't keep the ball in front of us in the zone. … It was just one of those nights," said Grant, pointing to his team's 18-for-37 night at the foul line for emphasis.
The Eagles' defense changed often after halftime, but for most of the first half, they fell back into a 2-3 zone, as did the Spartans. It was as if the teams were staring at a mirror image of the other. Who was the fairest of them all? At least for a while, Coppin, and not despite Norfolk State's best efforts.
The Eagles made four of their first six 3-pointers and finished 6-for-11 from beyond the arc in the first half. The Spartans missed their first 10 3-point tries and didn't hit one until 2:18 remained in the first half.
By then a 14-0 Coppin run had long since made the action about as competitive as your typical 2017 NFL playoff game. Senior forward Chas Brown's sixth point in the first five minutes, off an alley-oop from freshman guard Dejuan Clayton, made it 9-7. Less than five minutes later, senior wing Josh Treadwell's 3-pointer splashed through and it was 21-7.
The Eagles led by 12 at halftime, 34-22, but even that was largely because they had more personal fouls (13) than made field goals (12). The second half was more an upheaval than a reversal: In all, Norfolk State outscored its host 52-30.
"We have to teach these guys a little bit of how to handle success, and right now, we're not doing a good job of doing that," Grant said. "So hopefully, we can get our minds back right again and get these guys get back focused for Saturday's game."