The rivalry between Morgan State and Coppin State in men's basketball has a reputation for delivering both the expected and the unexpected. Saturday at Morgan State's Hill Field House, fans got all they could want and more.
In a game that featured six lead changes, an ejection, and three technical fouls, Coppin State played just enough defense down the stretch to defeat the host Bears, 88-86, in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game.
Tony Gallo led the Eagles (12-11, 7-3) with 28points, followed by Akeem Ellis with 21. Kevin Thompson led Morgan (5-15, 3-6) with 19 points.
"It's just Morgan-Coppin," said Eagles coach Ron "Fang" Mitchell. "Tempers flare, but we didn't allow ourselves to get involved in that. We are starting to finish games betterand play defense better. We have to keep getting better."
With the score tied 29-29 with 4:45 left in the first half, Coppin's Logan Wiens was called for a technical foul when he elbowed Morgan's Ameer Ali in the ribs. As the players were walking down the court for the foul shots, Ali retaliated with a punch to Wien's ribs. The blow led to Ali's ejection. On the next trip down the floor, Morgan's Aric Brooks was called for another technical foul. It was that kind of night.
The game was tied at 74-74 with 3:30 left, but Coppin's Michael Harper hit a 3-pointer as he tumbled out of bounds to give Coppin the lead, 77-74 with 3:08 left. The Eagles scored the next five points to take an 82-74 lead with 1:57 left, but Morgan wouldn't go away.
The Bears got two foul shots and a lay-up from DeWayne Jackson, as well as a 3-pointer by Brooks with 58.3 seconds left to cut the lead to 83-81. After the Eagles got two foul shots by Gallo, and one by Antonio Williams to take an 86-83 led with 19.1 seconds left, Jackson hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game at 86-86 with 11.2 seconds left.
The Eagles got the ball into the hands of Ellis with about 2.0 seconds left, but he was fouled by Thompson with 0.5 seconds left. After a timeout, he made both free throws to give Coppin the win.
"It wasn't a lot of pressure," Ellis said. "Coach told me it's the same thing we do every day in the gym in practice. It was definitely a foul, he dipped [his shoulder] into me."
For Coppin, the win is the fourth in its last five games. The Eagles are working to improve on the defensive end of the floor, and Saturday was a step in the process.
"We work on our defense every day," Gallo said. "We know we can score, so we are keeping the focus on defense. Now is when we need to come together as a team. This is when it counts."
Morgan coach Todd Bozeman was complimentary of Coppin, but felt like his team made some crucial errors down the stretch.
"Give credit to Coppin," Bozeman said. "They did what they do best and shoot the ball. We just have to keep working, and keep improving."