For want of one more basket, one more rebound, one more play, Hampton University saw a spirited comeback go for naught.
“We needed to make a couple more plays, get a stop, get a rebound, and we didn’t do it,” HU coach Ed Joyner Jr., said. “You have to make those kinds of plays in close games.”
“Mental toughness, mental focus,” HU forward Du’Vaughn Maxwell said. “A lot of times we have a problem with playing hard throughout the whole game and playing to our level of competition. We’re a lot better than we showed. Eventually, we’ve just got to get it done.”
Ramon Mercado (24 points) led the Pirates, and the inside tandem of Maxwell and Emmanuel Okoroba posted double-doubles – Okoroba with 14 points and 13 rebounds, Maxwell with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
But the game, and particularly overtime, belonged to Cole. Coppin’s 6-5 freshman guard nearly tripled his average with a game-high 29 points and scored seven of the Eagles’ nine overtime points.
Cole answered Mercado’s opening 3-pointer in overtime with one of his own to tie the game at 61. He hit two free throws with 51.9 seconds to tie it 65, after the last of Coppin’s 18 offensive rebounds.
On the Eagles’ final possession, working against HU guard Jasper Williams, Cole drew contact from a closing Okoroba on a jump shot with 1.2 seconds left. He hit both free throws for a 67-65 lead.
Forced to go the length of the floor, HU managed only a catch, turn and heave from Mercado just inside halfcourt that didn’t threaten the rim.
Hampton led three times in OT, as Mercado, Maxwell and seldom-used Aaron Austin scored. But after a defensive stop at 65-63, Deron Powers missed a 3-point attempt. Tied at 65 with under 30 seconds remaining, Williams air-balled a 3-pointer, setting up the final sequence.
Joyner would have preferred that the Pirates look inside on both possessions, rather than settle for jump shots.
“Those guys have made big shots for us in the past,” he said. “They just didn’t tonight.”
Coppin State (5-15, 2-3 MEAC) led 49-37 with 11 1/2 minutes remaining in regulation before Hampton climbed back. Maxwell and Mercado scored 19 of HU’s final 21 points in regulation. Mercado’s 3-pointer from the right corner gave the Pirates their first lead since the first half, at 56-55 with 3:11 left.
“We got back with energy and effort,” Joyner said. “We weren’t playing as hard as we need to earlier in the game.”
Maxwell, a 48-percent free throw shooter, hit a pair of foul shots with 11.6 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 56. Coppin had the last chance, but Powers and Okoroba sandwiched Taariq Cephas and caused him to force up an off-balance shot at the buzzer.
“It’s very easy to fight back during a game,” Maxwell said. “You’ve got nothing else to do. You’re not going to let anybody stomp on you. To put a team away, that’s a real man right there. It takes a real man and a real team to buckle down and defensively to do it as a team and put a team away.
“We had our chance, coming out of the gate in overtime to really put the team away, up by three and get another stop and go from there. We didn’t do it. There’s no excuses for that whatsoever.”
The Pirates prepare for a trip to rival Norfolk State on Saturday, the first of five consecutive road games for a team searching for consistency. The Spartans improved to 6-0 in the conference with Monday’s 73-71 victory against Morgan State.
“That’s mental toughness and focus,” Maxwell said. “There’s no reason why we should give up a clear shot or foul at the end of the game like that. We just have to get it done. That’s discipline right there. That’s nothing Coach (Joyner) put in our heads. That’s all on us, as a team.”