The Cost of Winning
Mitchell turned out to be a prophet in 1989, and not just regarding his team’s future success. Even before Coppin’s monumental win over Maryland, Mitchell had already expressed exasperation with simply finding games for his teams to play. The better his team got, the harder it got to get teams to come to their gyms, or even play them period.
“It’s somewhat of a stigma losing to a black school. Why? Because this is America. How many episodes have we dealt with in the past few years, showing that blacks are supposedly inferior and that black coaches aren’t supposed to be able to coach?Fang Mitchell, 1989
Well, Fang was wrong about that. Coppin did play American again, twice. One of them was even at home, a 92-87 win in 1991. But his premise was right and still is true today.
Eleven months later, the Eagles beat the Terps. Thirty years later, the teams have not played each other since. But Mitchell knew the implications were much bigger than wins and losses on the court. He knew what time it was.
“We’re not talking about fairness so much as we are talking about money. The big schools are in control and the at-large spaces are reserved for them. They figure, ‘let the little people fight it out.”
As much as they may have resented it, that’s just what the Eagles did during the 1989-90 season. They won 23 games in the regular season, going 15-1 in the MEAC, and it did it without any fourth-year seniors. Booth and Orr, both of whom saw their points and shots go down as the wins went up, were in their third seasons at Coppin. Trigger man Larry Yarbray averaged 7.7 assists per game as a sophomore. Stewart, the MEAC Player of The Year, and Reggie Isaac who averaged 23.1
The win over Maryland, along with another over a solid Creighton team and their dominance of the MEAC had folks talking a possible at-large bid should Coppin fail in the MEAC Tournament. Fang knew better.
“We have to win the tournament,” Mitchell told the Baltimore Sun. “We can’t possibly put our trust in the selection committee. It’s either we win or go home.”
And that’s exactly what the Eagles did. They beat Morgan State, SC State and then held off an upset-minded A&T team hoping to return the favor for the previous year’s defeat. But it was Coppin’s time, and it came away with a 54-50 win in the Greensboro Coliseum despite playing in A&T’s back yard and being referred to as “Copping” State by ESPN’s announcers.