"The best way to solve any problem is to remove its cause."- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Game #9-359: Norfolk State Spartans at Coppin State EaglesFebruary 2, 2013 4:00 pm
Coppin Center-Pullen Gym
BALTIMORE - If you're doing any kind of comprehensive tour of the Mid-majority, you have to see a game in the MEAC and the SWAC.
This is not negotiable.
First and foremost, because they exist. But second, because of how they exist.
You can read the history of the Historical Black Universities and Colleges
for yourself, and Ian McCormick did a solid job talking about some of the reasons why they are all but forgotten by the college basketball community at large, except to poke fun at or make believe they championed their cause when they win an NCAA Tournament game.
I study history, but short of living in Texas for 18 months, I've never lived in the South. And I'm not black. I certainly didn't live a century or two ago, where the racial conditions were so poor, the HBUCs were formed en masse, a sort of Plessy v. Ferguson thing
for higher education
, I guess. It beat the alternative at the time, especially if you saw ESPN's 30 for 30 on the University of Mississippi
. And that was only 40 years ago, a short enough span that many at Coppin State's Homecoming Saturday afternoon could remember fairly well.
And, yes, they tailgate in the MEAC when it's 25 degrees
It's not a coincidence that almost all the HBCUs sit at least close
to the Mason-Dixon line (Baltimore has a weird, straddling the north and south going, both in culture and in identity. For instance, about half an inch of snow fell Saturday night, and you'd think I was back in Texas, no one knew what to do.)
The legalized racism is long gone, but - as with much of society - starting in a big economic hole has been difficult to collectively climb out of. The entire SWAC and MEAC combined have an endowment of less than $1 billion (with Howard accounting for $371 million of that
), while Harvard has $19 billion and rising, although they're not spending much on their basketball arena
Someone said to me when I asked about Coppin State, "That's in a shitty area of Batimore, why would you want to go there?"
"Define shitty," and they could tell by the tone that they should probably temper their response.
"Well, there's not exactly many tourist destinations in that area, if you know what I mean."
"You don't know how wrong you are."
Coppin State became one of my favorite mid-major things thanks to a T-shirt and a fortuitous NCAA placement way back in 1993.
The Eagles were dropped into the Syracuse pod after winning the MEAC, and so I got to attend by walking a grand total of about 200 feet from my dorm room. In true NCAA fashion, all the T-shirts were laid out Penn was pretty cool (they almost knocked off UMass), I liked Manhattan, but they were sold out.
Coppin State it was. The Eagles, huh? I wish I still had that shirt. They were blasted by Nick Van Exel and Cincinnati, who probably should have gone to the Final Four that season, but, whatever.
Little did I know almost exactly two decades later, I would finally make it to a game there.
Just like at Murray State last month, I was pleasantly surprised by Coppin State's facilities. Or I should have been that way, I guess the narrative would have been better if some tiles fell of the roof at tip-off or something.
The Coppin State Physical Education Complex opened four years ago, and is a fine mid-major facility, that would see about 3,500 people come to Homecoming. The opponent Saturday was also noteworthy: Norfolk State. You remember them, don't you? Well, coming off their new-found fame, Anthony Evans and the Spartans stepped up their non-conference schedule this season and took some lumps, a couple of large ones I saw delivered personally
But the strategy seems to have paid dividends in the long-run, Norfolk State was undefeated in MEAC play going into this game, and Saturday featured a changing of the guard a little bit in the MEAC, with Anthony Evans trying to turn Norfolk State into the face of the conference, at least in the short-term. Meanwhile, Fang Mitchell also had an NCAA win (the MEAC has had three in the last 16 seasons - all No. 15 seeds over No. 2s - quite a record for the conference), but that was way back in 1997
. Although the 29-year veteran Mitchell did go to the NCAA Tournament in 2008, that team had 20 losses, and the Eagles haven't won a MEAC regular season crown since 2004.
Time can be relative in the MEAC, where television doesn't often rule the day, so they could afford to schedule a women's/men's doubleheader at 2 and 4 p.m., with virtually no chance of starting the men's game on time. Coppin State's women's team won by 30, but in the men's contest, 6-foot-6 point guard Pendarvis Williams spent a lot of the first half shooting over the smaller Eagles zone, scoring 11 points in the first eight minutes to push the Spartans to an 18-10 lead.
(It wasn't the best start for the Spartans, though, as they were assessed a technical for dunking with the officials present in warm-ups. Might be the dumbest rules in college basketball unless you can top it. So it was 2-0 Coppin State before the game even tipped off.)
Coppin State hit a couple of superhoops to get back in the game, but Norfolk State had too much size and used 12 (?!?) first-half offensive rebounds to build a 35-25 halftime lead in a sloppy game (each team had 12 turnovers at the half as well).
There always seemed to be a din going around the arena, that could have been due to people trying to catch up at Homecoming, the band, the DJ (and you have to have a DJ in this conference), or possibly the deafening sound system which seemed ready to burst (either it or my eardrums) at any moment. Or it could have been that Coppin State just didn't do enough to jeep the fans interested in the first half.
(One interesting thing that I saw in reference to Ian's story: a few non African-American female athletes from the softball and volleyball teams walking around during the game, and I didn't know what to make of it, to be honest. I guess any diversity is good diversity. I thought to my efforts to try to get economically disadvantaged girls involved in sports like soccer that sadly cost a decent amount of money these days, even at very young ages. But that's a whole other argument I can have with you another day if you wish.)
The Spartans continued to dominate inside and Mitchell's expressions told you all you needed to know (as opposed to Evans, who might be the most expressionless coach I've season this season, possibly Tommy Amaker at Harvard being the lone exception). It was 64-46 Spartans with seven minutes left, and I was planning my escape route through the snow when the game ended. The Eagles made some headway, but a Williams superhoop with a hand in his face and the shot clock expiring to make it 74-61 with 2:40 left.
But Norfolk State became entirely way too cavalier with the basketball. Leading 74-65, Williams grabbed the ball and tried to get out of the way of a shorter opponent only to inadvertently hit him with his elbow. In the old days, the foul would likely have been on the Eagles, but in the new era, the referees went to the video monitor, Williams was assessed a flagrant foul, and Coppin State had life.
For the second time in a minute, the Spartans not only threw a pass to no one in particular, but didn't really bother to chase it. Patrick Cole, who had helped lead the Coppin State comeback, tried to do everything at once and took a bad superhoop attempt. Norfolk State grabbed the rebound, made some free throws, and finished up a much-harder-than-it-had-to-be 80-70 road MEAC victory, surviving 24 turnovers thanks to a 48-25 rebounding advantage and 23 points (5-of-7 on #superhoops) and 12 rebounds from Williams.
It was a decent cold walk to the snow-covered car, and it gave me a little rare time to think. (The only heavy jacket I own is a New York Giants parka, and I wasn't going to wear that in Baltimore on Super Bowl weekend. Also, never, ever, make fun of Ray Lewis in Baltimore. Just sayin.)
In the end, we can talk about civil rights and economic disparities, but once the ball is tipped (yea, I went there, sorry), it's just a basketball game, complete with college kids and alumni in the stands that are proud of their institution that want them to do well. That these schools happen to not spend very much puts them at a huge disadvantage against the bigger schools in Division I that people in general pay attention to more than them. And that - and not anything to do with racial composition - is what makes them part of Our Game. We're happy to have them.
(By the way: one guy who played a non-conference game at Coppin State this season: Jimmy Patsos. You bet he did.)
When I draw up a tourist map of Baltimore, you'll be damn sure the Physical Education Complex at Coppin State is prominently mentioned.
And it's neighborhood will not be described as shitty.