Coppin State Stuns No. 2 South CarolinaBy Alan Robinson
AP Sports Writer
Friday, March 14, 1997 7:11 pm EST
PITTSBURGH (AP) No tradition, no chance. Coppin State never had won a game in the NCAA tournament and, with a first-round pairing against mighty South Carolina, it didn't look like that was about to change.
Do you believe in miracles?
``We believed. We always believed,'' said Danny Singletary after leading the Eagles, 30-point underdogs, to a 78-65 East Regional upset of the Gamecocks Friday.
It was only the third time in NCAA history a No. 15 seed has defeated a No. 2 seed. Neither of the other two teams to do it Richmond against Syracuse in 1991 or Santa Clara over Arizona in 1993 was as unknown or so overwhelming an underdog as coach Ron ``Fang'' Mitchell's Eagles.
This game wasn't expected to be close, and it wasn't.
The Eagles (22-8) took the lead as 55-54 on Singletary's 18-footer with 6:12 to play and steadily built it down the stretch, as the Gamecocks, the regular-season Southeastern Conference champion, watched with tears of disbelief building in their eyes.
Singletary finished with 22 points.
``We didn't even know it was South Carolina out there,'' said Reggie Welch, who had 15 rebounds as the Eagles held a 41-30 rebounding edge. ``We kept on getting confidence, and before you knew it, we were up. We took it five minutes at a time there's five minutes, there's five more.''
Before they knew it, the Gamecocks' time was up, eliminated by a team whose last previous game against a big-name Division I team was a 36-point loss at Illinois.
``We were up by seven in the second half, but they didn't give up,'' South Carolina guard BJ McKie said. ``They took it to us, and we were passive. We should have been a lot more aggressive.''
The only remotely comparable win in Coppin's history was a 70-63 upset of Maryland in 1989. Friday's victory was the first in NCAA history for both Coppin and its conference, the Mid-Eastern Atheltic Conference.
Coppin had lost its other two NCAA tournament games, to Syracuse in 1990 and Cincinnati in 1993.
Singletary scored all but four of his points in the second half, and Antoine Brockington, playing in the arena where he had always wanted to play, had 20 while badly outplaying South Carolina's Big 3 of Larry Davis, Melvin Watson and McKie.
The three, who had averaged a combined 47.1 points over South Carolina's last 19 games, managed only 31, including just two by Davis, who averages 16.8. McKie had 16 and Watson had 13, but they combined for only 12-of-27 shooting and seven turnovers, six by Watson.
``(Singletary) got into a flow, and he really got it going,'' Watson said. ``He was ready, and I wasn't. This is the first time I've been here (in the NCAA), and I wanted to make a better showing.''
Terquin Mott, Coppin's best player and a likely NBA draft pick, withstood a sprained ankle suffered in practice Thursday to add 11 points and 11 rebounds.
South Carolina (24-8), which had beaten Kentucky twice while winning 19 of its last 22, was regarded as a likely Final Four team except by Mitchell, who talked openly Thursday of what he called ``felling the giant.''
The upset was all the more remarkable because of Coppin State's string of blowout losses to its better Division I opponents. The Eagles lost on the road to Oklahoma by 24, Nebraska by 16 and Illinois by 36. None of those teams were ranked nearly as high as the Gamecocks, who might have been a No. 1 seed if they hadn't lost to Georgia in the SEC tournament.
``When this thing started, we didn't have a lot of guys who realized how big this could be for them,'' Mitchell said. ``Some of them felt it was good just to be in the tournament. But, once we started practicing, I could see the attitude begin to change.''
The crowd of 17,509, jammed into every corner of the Civic Arena, began believing, too, giving the Eagles a huge emotional lift down the stretch by canting, ``Let's Go, Eagles, Let's Go Eagles.''
Singletary's jumper at 6:12 with a hand in his face got the Eagles going on a decisive 11-4 stretch run. He followed up his own miss at 4:25, making it 59-56, then made two free throws with 4:01 left. It was 61-56, and finally, South Carolina seemed worried.
Fred Warrick muscled inside the Gamecocks' front line for a three-point play at 3:16 to jump the lead to eight, and Gamecocks coach Eddie Fogler, who had shrugged off suggestions of an upset the day before, called a timeout.
It was too late.
Brockington hit two free throws to make it 66-58 with 2:44 to play, and the Eagles closed it out with Singletary's NBA-range 3-pointer from the left wing at the 1:43 mark, with only a second left on the shot clock.
``He made a great shot when he had to make it,'' Watson said.
At the end, the Eagles winners of 10 of their last 11 jumped jubilantly on each other and Mitchell at midcourt. They all get to stick around for a second-round game Sunday against No. 10 Texas, which earlier beat Wisconsin 71-58.
South Carolina goes home, amid speculation that Fogler, who has changed jobs three times in 11 years, might do so again. Rutgers will talk to him next week about its coaching vacancy.
``Coach Fogler will do what's best for Coach Fogler,'' McKie said.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company