DAYTON, Ohio &
For Coppin State, the turning point came during the Florida AM game.
It probably couldn't have come any later. The Eagles had already lost 19 games, and their confidence was flagging.
Coppin State pulled it out with a tip-in shot that gave them a one-point victory on Feb. 18 in a key road matchup.
"They started believing in themselves at that point," coach Ron Mitchell said of his players Monday.
They've only lost one game since then, and went on to win the Mid-Eastern Conference tournament sending Coppin State to the NCAAs, a feat that hardly seemed possible, let alone likely, just a month ago.
So what if the Eagles are playing in the so-called opening round, against Mount St. Mary's tonight in southwestern Ohio two nights before the rest of the tournament grabs the country's attention? So what if the Eagles are the first team to get into the tournament with 20 losses, outdoing the 19 by Bradley in 1954-55?
"We're definitely not looking at their record to see how good they are," Mount St. Mary's coach Milan Brown said. "They're going to be a tough test."
Coppin State, from Baltimore, won the conference title by beating Morgan State 62-60. Mount St. Mary's (18-14), from Emmitsburg, Md., beat Sacred Heart 68-55 for the Northeast Conference title.
Brown is especially worried about Coppin State point guard Tywain McKee, a senior who is averaging 16.6 points a game and lifted the Eagles over Morgan State by tying his season-high of 33, including a floater in the lane with two seconds remaining.
"That's always scary in a one-game situation that a player can have a night where he can just beat you by himself," Brown said. "We're going to try to make sure we give him a few different looks, hopefully, and just make him take a lot of potentially tough shots."
Mitchell is focusing on the perimeter play of Mount St. Mary's guards Jeremy Goode and Chris Vann. Goode averages 14.3 points and 5.5 assists and Vann averages 14.4 points.
"We're overwhelmed that we're here. We have a chance to do big things," said Vann. "We're enjoying every bit of it."
Brown said he had a sense over the weekend that his team might end up playing Coppin State, so on Sunday his team practiced as if they would play the Eagles.
"I guess maybe it looked like I was a genius," he said.
The Mountaineers are making their third NCAA tournament appearance and first since 1999. Coppin State is making its fourth appearance and first since 1997.
Mount St. Mary's is 3-0 against Coppin State, and the two teams haven't met since 1984, despite being about 60 miles apart. The winner gets to face top-ranked and top-seeded North Carolina in the east regional in Raleigh, N.C.
Coppin State went from nosedive to NCAAs despite 20 losses
DAYTON, Ohio &