Silent most of the game, Ed Farmer made a crucial three-point play in overtime to lead the District of Columbia to a 78-71 victory over Coppin State last night before 200 at the Van Ness Activities Center.

Trailing, 66-64, with three minutes left in overtime, Coppin State had a chance to tie but Keith Mercer missed two shots. UDC's Jerry Wilson rebounded the second miss and passed to Lyndon DeBellotte, who dished off to Farmer. Farmer, a transfer from Maryland, was fouled as he hit the layup. He made the free throw for a 69-64 lead.

Coppin State closed to 70-67 but William Ortiz' two free throws and one each by DeBellotte and Farmer helped UDC hang on to improve its record to 8-11. Coppin fell to 6-10.

"We were lucky to get into the overtime," said UDC Coach Wil Jones. "I think that's the first time all year we didn't panic when we got behind."

The Firebirds, after taking a 6-0 lead, were behind most of the game. James Jackson, who led Coppin State with 19 points, followed up a Mercer miss to give the Eagles a 17-15 lead with seven minutes left in the first half. After Mark Carroll (14 points) scored on an offensive rebound, the Eagles led by 27-18.

UDC scored seven straight points to trail at the half, 27-25. Even though Coppin State listed no player over 6-foot-5, the Firebirds were outrebounded, 30-10, in the first half.

"We still don't know some of the fundamentals," Jones said. "We're so young, we still have a lot to learn."

In the second half, UDC abandoned its 2-1-2 zone defense in favor of full-court man-to-man pressure. It worked for a while as the Firebirds forced two steals and got two baskets to come within 35-34 with 15 minutes remaining.

But Coppin State scored eight consecutive points to establish a nine-point lead. The Eagles gained their largest lead at 53-43 after Jackson made two free throws.

UDC climbed back slowly, and when DeBellotte (19 points) made two free throws and a driving 10-footer, the Firebirds were within 55-53. The Eagles didn't hear Coach John Bates scream for a timeout and consequently threw the ball away with 5:38 remaining.

After a timeout, DeBellotte's 15-footer tied it. The teams traded baskets until DeBellotte's two free throws tied the score again at 62 with 1:23 left.

Coppin State ran down the clock but missed three shots in the last eight seconds, forcing the overtime.