NORFOLK, Va. — Longtime Coppin State coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell has seen his share of championship teams.
He thinks he may be looking at another one now.
Mitchell’s seventh-seeded Eagles got some key defensive stops and made 11 of 12 free throws in the final 1:18 to upset second-seeded Hampton 83-77 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals Wednesday night at the Scope Arena.
The Eagles (12-19) will face either third-seeded Morgan State or sixth-seeded Florida A&M in Friday’s semifinals. The Bears and Rattlers play their quarterfinal Thursday night.
“Even though we’re not one of the top seeds, we knew we could play with anyone in this league,” Coppin State guard Dallas Gary said. “If feels good to win two games, but we didn’t come here to win two games. We came here to win four and get a championship.
The Eagles will be making their first trip to the semifinals since 2008, when Coppin State went on to complete a four-game sweep and claim the MEAC crown. Coincidentally, that 2008 team also came in as a No. 7 seed, and it also beat Hampton in the quarterfinals.
Mitchell believes this team is capable of duplicating that feat.
“I see a determined group,” said Mitchell, who has led the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament four times and the NIT twice during his 27 years at Coppin State. “When it came time to dig in, they dug in. When it came time to make those foul (shots), they made those shots. To be honest with you, all week long I’ve liked their attitude, at the practices and everything. They came here for one purpose, to try to win.”
As has been the case all season, nothing came easily for the Eagles. The game featured 10 ties, and Hampton (18-12) led by as many as five in the second half.
Hampton forward Du’Vaughn Maxwell’s layup with 1:23 left gave the Pirates a 73-72 lead.
From there, however, the Eagles were deadly at the line, as guard Taariq Cephas, guard Michael Murray and guard Daquan Brickhouse combined to make nine free throws in a row before Cephas finally missed one.
Brickhouse added two more free throws with 3.9 seconds left to seal the decision.
For the game, Coppin State made 29 of 41 free throws.
Cephas scored 24 points, and guard Gary added 17 for the Eagles.
Maxwell scored 23 points, including 11 in a row during one second-half stretch. Guard Brian Darden chipped in 17 points for Hampton, which was upset in its opening game of the tournament for the second straight year.
Last season, Hampton fell in the quarterfinals as a No. 3 seed.
“The last three minutes, they made more plays than we did,” Hampton coach Edward Joyner said. “You have to give them credit.”
The game quickly settled into a battle between Hampton’s superior rebounding might against Coppin State’s tenacity and ability to force turnovers.
In the first half, the Pirates scored 13 second-chance points and grabbed nearly as many offensive rebounds (14) as the Eagles had on both boards combined (16).
Coppin State answered with 13 points off nine Hampton turnovers, including a strip and coast-to-coast layup by Murray during a 7-0 Eagles run that snapped a 27-27 tie. Coppin State scored nine of the last 12 points of the half and took a 36-30 lead into halftime.
Murray and Gary each had nine first-half points to lead the Eagles. Guard Ramon Mercado’s seven first-half points paced Hampton, who hung close despite 29.4 percent first-half shooting.
Ultimately, Coppin State was able to neutralize Hampton’s size by going to a small lineup and forcing mismatches when the Eagles had the ball.
“They’re one of the few teams that can do that to us, and when they go small like that, it causes us some problems,” Joyner said.
NOTES: The game was delayed about 15 minutes with 13:18 remaining in the first half because of a shot-clock malfunction. … Coppin State and Hampton split their four meetings over the past two seasons, with each team winning both road games … Hampton, which received a bye in the first round, closed the regular season on a seven-game winning streak.
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