The collective sigh of relief from the Coppin State men’s basketball program was almost palpable.
Still smarting from a 109-82 loss at UMBC on Wednesday night that wasn’t as close as the score would suggest, the Eagles were mired in a four-game losing skid. Hungry for a positive result, they rallied from a seven-point deficit with a little more than eight minutes left for a 74-71 victory over host Loyola Maryland on Saturday at Reitz Arena.
The win helped Coppin State improve to 4-6 and was the program’s first since Nov. 17 when it outlasted Tennessee Tech, 90-85, in overtime.
“Losing two games can make you feel bad, and we were on a four-game losing streak,” redshirt senior point guard Sam Sessoms said. “So we just wanted to win. So the feeling is good. We can go home feeling happy. We can build off of this win and bring that to North Carolina State [Tuesday night].”
Eagles coach Juan Dixon credited a 40-minute conversation with Houston coach Kelvin Sampson for helping him figure out how to help the players bounce back from that frustrating setback at UMBC — a game in which the Retrievers led by 56 points with 7:29 left in the second half — and prepare for the Greyhounds.
“We did something uncharacteristic for us as a staff,” said Dixon, the former Maryland star. “We worked the heck out of our guys the last two days. They were exhausted. I ran them. So I can’t thank Kelvin Sampson enough for his mentorship. Our guys responded, they accepted coaching, they made no excuses, and we got stops in the end. … I’m so proud of our guys. I love our guys. This is a big win for us.”
Sessoms played a significant role in the outcome. The Penn State transfer racked up a season-high 35 points, four assists and four rebounds. He scored nine points to fuel a 21-11 run over the final eight minutes of the game.
After the Greyhounds knotted the score at 69 and 71 in the last minute, Sessoms held onto the ball in the waning moments before driving on sophomore guard Chris Kuzemka and draining a midrange jumper from the right elbow with two seconds remaining for a 73-71 lead. A blocking foul on Loyola freshman forward Isaiah Alexander led to redshirt senior shooting guard Justin Spears converting one of two free throws for the final score.
Sessoms, who was just five points shy of his career-high of 40 against Boston University on Dec. 7, 2019, shrugged off much of the postgame attention.
“My coaches put me in a good position,” he said. “They know where I like the ball at, and I’m pretty good at knowing what shots I’m good at taking. Kudos to my teammates for getting me the ball in the right spots. It was really just the same offense we’ve been playing. Nothing changed.”
Dixon said games like Saturday’s are the reason why he recruited Sessoms intensely.
“Defensively, he’s got to keep getting better, but offensively, we knew how special he was,” Dixon said. “And I know the type of coach that I am. I’m going to give him freedom to make plays and hoop as long as he makes the right play.”
One of those plays was Sessoms kicking the ball out to redshirt sophomore shooting guard Isaiah Gross for a 3-pointer from the left corner with 2:16 left in the second half that gave the Eagles a 67-65 lead — their first since going up 14-13 with 11:40 remaining in the first half.
That 3-pointer was Gross’ third of the game and occurred just 45 seconds after he had nailed a 3-pointer from the exact same spot courtesy of a pass from redshirt sophomore shooting guard Nendah Tarke.
“What was really going through my head was, I didn’t want to lose this game,” said Gross, who finished with nine points on 3-of-4 shooting from 3-point range. “So I was just shooting the ball with confidence, and I just knew that my point guard was going to find me anyway. I just have faith in my teammates that they’re going to find me.”
Said Sessoms: “For Isaiah to come off the pine and lock in on defense and hit those big-time shots, that’s what we need. That’s a sign of us coming around. We had two great practices. We had a reserve player come up, get some stops, and hit some big threes. That just shows growth in our team.”
While Sessoms was the only player for Coppin State in double figures, the Greyhounds had three players in double digits. Graduate student shooting guard Kenneth Jones amassed 18 points, four steals, three rebounds and three assists; freshman point Deon Perry (Mount Carmel) added 14 points and two assists; and graduate student shooting guard Jaylin Andrews (Boys’ Latin) compiled 12 points, five rebounds and three assists.
But the offensive rhythm Loyola had strummed for the first 32 minutes evaporated. The Greyhounds missed six of their last nine shots and converted just 13 of 22 attempts from the free-throw line.
The loss was the Greyhounds’ first to a non-Patriot League opponent at home since an 82-80 setback to Dartmouth on Nov. 11, 2018, ending an 12-game winning streak against nonconference foes at Reitz Arena.
“I thought we had it in a good spot,” coach Tavaras Hardy said. “We’ve just got to execute down the stretch. Too many turnovers down the stretch of the game. I don’t think they were forced. I think we just lost our character. So we’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball and getting the shots we want down the stretch. If we do that, we win the game.”
Coppin State at NC State
Tuesday, 7 p.m.
TV: ACC Network
Loyola Maryland at Hampton
Wednesday, 7 p.m.