NORFOLK, Va. — Sterling Smith scored a team-high 14 points to lead a balanced attack as Coppin State defeated Bethune Cookman, 64-60 in the first round of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament the Norfolk Scope. The Eagles (8-22), the Number 9 seed, advance to the quarterfinal round and will play the Number 1 seed, North Carolina Central on Wednesday at 6 pm.
The first half was competitive, featuring seven ties and three lead changes. Coppin State led 29-23 on the strength of the scoring of seven different players, including Smith with eight points on 4 of 6 shooting. The Wildcats (11-21), the Number 8 seed, kept it close as Denzel Dulin (10 points) and Ricky Johnson (7 points) combined for 17 of their team’s points.
“I thought our guys really competed and made some big plays at the end,” said Coppin State first year head coach Michael Grant. “We really took care of the basketball, ending up with only seven turnovers. Anytime you can go into a game and do that, it is a very good night.”
Coppin State began to put some distance between them and Wildcats as they spread the wealth, especially the Eagles bench, which outscored their counterparts, 24-11. Coppin State led by as much as nine on several occasions, but each time the Wildcats would rally on the scoring of Johnson, who scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half and reserve Quintin Brewer who added all of his 11 points in the second stanza.
Brewer proved to be a factor at both ends of the court for the Wildcats, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking four shots in 24 minutes of play.
A layup by Johnson cut the deficit to 62-60 with two seconds remaining, but Daquan Brickhouse put the game away with two free throws after being fouled.
Smith added six points to go with his 14 points while Arnold Fripp (nine points), Taariq Cephas (eight points), Brickhouse (eight points), Christian Kessee (seven points) and Jashvari Josiah (seven points) took turns in scoring.
“We got a big contribution from the bench,” noted Fripp. “More importantly, we learned how to close out the game.”
Johnson led all players with 21, Dulin with 16 and Brewer with 11 off the bench.
“We played at the tempo we like,” said Johnson. “But a few turnovers and rebounds just didn’t go our way.”
In their only meeting of the year in Durham, NC, Coppin State dropped a 79-77 decision on January 24.
“The key is for us to be able to knock down shots,” said Grant of the match-up against the defending tournament champs. “This is going to be a similar game as tonight’s. I don’t think Central wants to run with us and make it a fast paced game. They want the game in the low 60s and we want it in the 70s and 80s. It’s all about us taking care of the ball and making sure we get good shots and value our possessions. We have to make shots and keep them off the glass and keep their energy game down. We have to make sure we take the crowd of the game and play our game.”