Thursday, March 14, 2013

MEAC report: Hampton's toughest test?

After thoroughly chewing through all comers of late, top-seeded Hampton could be poised for its stiffest challenge in weeks when the Lady Pirates take on No. 5 Coppin State in the MEAC Tournament semifinals at noon Friday at the Norfolk Scope.

The Eagles are that rare MEAC team that has consistency challenged the three-time defending tournament champion Lady Pirates in the four seasons since David Six became Hampton's coach. Both of Coppin State's losses to HU this season have come by single digits - 8 and 9 points - commendable results in a year where Hampton's average victory margin over conference foes is 20.8 points.

Coppin State also handed Hampton its last MEAC defeat, a 69-66 overtime decision at Hampton on Jan. 28, 2012. The Lady Pirates have won 28 straight against conference foes since. Coppin State also dealt Hampton a loss during the 2009-10 season, Six's first in charge of the Lady Pirates.

What's Coppin State's secret? Eagles coach Derek Brown wasn't about to dole out many clues.

"I guess we just match up well with them," he said.

A big key for Coppin State in this season's two meetings with Hampton has been the Eagles' ability to get to the free throw line. The Eagles' combined shooting percentage in the two games was a measly 31.3 percent. But they made 52 trips to the line in the two games, a key reason why Coppin State was able to score at least 50 points against Hampton's vaunted defense in each of the two games.

Brown's Eagles needed to pull out all the stops just to get another crack at the Lady Pirates. In Thursday's quarterfinals, it took Shawntae Payne's driving layup with 1.5 seconds left to life Coppin State over No. 4 South Carolina State 55-53.

It was the second great escape in as many tournament games for the Eagles, who on Monday a late four-point deficit to nip No. 12 North Carolina Central 44-41.

Despite their recent competitive showings against Hampton, the Eagles expect to be viewed as huge underdogs in Friday's semifinals. In fact, they're counting on it.

"Hearing that actually helps us," Payne said. "It just makes us want to play harder."

Added senior forward Leola Spotwood: "It's definitely going to be a good game, because neither one of us wants to go home."

Friday's other semifinal, scheduled for 2:30 p.m., pits No. 3 Howard against No. 2 North Carolina A&T. The Bison advanced when senior Nicole Deterville's putback at the buzzer lifted them past No. 6 Morgan State 62-60. A day earlier, N.C. A&T ended No. 10 Norfolk State's season with a 78-47 victory in another quarterfinal.

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