Seventh-seed Coppin State rode a bevy of 3-pointers to a 15-point second-half lead and then hung on down the stretch to upset third-seed NC Central 79-73 Friday night to advance to Saturday’s MEAC Tournament Championship game.
CSU (9-22), who sent second-seed Howard home in Wednesday’s quarterfinals, will face top-seed and defending tournament champion Norfolk State in the 1 p.m. title game. NSU defeated Morgan State 72-63 in Friday’s earlier semifinal game. This will be Coppin State first championship game appearance since taking home the title in 2008.
Coppin State’s 3s pave the way
CSU shot a league high of 257 treys this season while shooting a league-worst .299 from behind the arc. The Eagies canned 12 of 29 (41.4%) from distance en route to the win. Breaking from a 29-29 tie, CSU (9-22) rode the long ball to a 66-51 second half lead with 6:37 to play. Back-to-back threes by Jesse Zarzuela and Mike Hood capped the run.
But just as it looked as if LeVelle Moton’s Eagles (16-15) were through, they fought back. They got as close as 75-73 with :24 seconds left but could not get over the hump.
Zarzuela led the Eagles with 27 points, hitting of 8 of 13 shots from the floor including draining six of eight threes. He also made five of six free throws over the final minutes.
Coppin State tradition
“It means a lot,” said Juan Dixon, Coppin State’s fifth-year head coach of getting to the championship game. “We’ve tried to lay the foundation here and build a tradition. This is a big step.”
Zarazuela, a redshirt sophomore, was to be a big part of that foundation. The 6-3 sharpshooter was the MEAC’s leading scorer when he went down with a lower leg injury in late January. He missed the last seven weeks. His first game back was against Howard in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
“My guys came together,” Zarzuela said of the semifinal win. “They believed and we were all in.”
Nendah Tarke, the hero of CSU’s buzzer-beating win over Howard, had 14 points and hit some clutch baskets and free throws down the stretch to keep NCCU at bay. Justin Steers, gave CSU a presence down low, finishing with 13 points and 13 rebounds off the bench. Kyle Cardaci added nine points on three treys.
Kris Monroe led four NCCU players in double-digits with 18 points. Justin Wright had 14 while Eric Boone and Randy Miller Jr. had 12.