Morgan State vs. Coppin State is more than crosstown grudge match
For the 90th time Saturday, the arena will be packed and players hyped
College sports rivalries usually play out when two teams share a city, state or conference, but the Morgan State and Coppin State rivalry has all three ingredients, becoming one of the better rivalries in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).
These crosstown rivals are only 18 minutes apart from each other but are on opposite ends of Baltimore, and the rivalry offers more than just proximity. Both teams have played in meaningful games and even met each other in the 2008 MEAC championship.
When Coppin State (4-4 MEAC, 4-19 overall) hosts Morgan State (3-5, 8-13) on Saturday, it looks to be another contest fought tooth-and-nail because both are in the middle of their conference schedules and a win could be a turning point in their seasons.
“This is a big game, and being that it’s a rivalry, it’s even more competitive,” said Dejuan Clayton, who leads Coppin State in scoring, averaging 13.5 points a game. “For both of us, it’s definitely the hypest game of the year, whether home or away.”
The games between these two are what fans look forward to every season, and it shows. Since 2012, the Morgan State-Coppin State game has been each school’s highest or second-highest attended home game. The boost in attendance adds to the intensity of the game, and Coppin State’s senior guard Lucian Brownlee can feel it on game day.
“As soon as you step in the building, it’s a different type of feeling. The whole city is out, the whole school is there, and it’s just a great environment to play in,” said Brownlee.
For Coppin State, winning Saturday’s game would mean much more than just bragging rights. It would be the team’s fifth conference win this season, which would match its total conference wins from last season.
Last season was also Juan Dixon’s first as head coach. It started with 17 straight losses and eventually led to a 5-27 record. Dixon, who won a national championship at the University of Maryland as a player and played eight years in the NBA, has yet to find that same success as a coach.
But Dixon’s players expressed how he’s had an impact on them since the Baltimore native became head coach.
“He’s more than a coach to us; he’s like a mentor,” said Clayton. “He’s trusted me since he’s got here, and told me that the ball was going to be in my hands and that he could trust me.”
Said Brownlee: “Just to see the passion that he still brings in the game and knowing he wants to give that to us, you feel it and you want to go out and compete for him.”
Coppin State leads the all-time series 57-32, largely because of how good they were during the 1990s, but Morgan State has put a dent into Coppin State’s lead lately, especially since Todd Bozeman took over as coach. Saturday will mark the 90th time the two teams play.
Since becoming Morgan State’s head coach in 2006, Bozeman has found a lot success against Coppin State, earning a 19-9 record against the Eagles. Bozeman doesn’t allow himself or his team to make too much of the record versus Coppin State or the game itself, taking a “one game at a time” approach to the season.
“Whatever game is the next game, that’s the biggest game, and that’s the way we approach every game,” said Bozeman.
Bozeman gained experience as an NBA scout and coached at the University of California, Berkeley before coaching the Bears. Having that kind of experience as a coach has helped Bozeman stay even-keeled about the season, but he did acknowledge how the atmosphere of the rivalry is different from other conference games.
Bozeman isn’t the only coach on his staff with experience in the rivalry, which helps prepare his team for the matchup. Assistant coach Larry Stewart played for Coppin State from 1988-91 and left a legacy that was felt throughout the MEAC. When Stewart’s career was over, he was Coppin State’s all-time leading rebounder and No. 3 in scoring, and he led the team to its first NCAA tournament appearance.
Even though Stewart works for Morgan State now, he still trash-talks with some of the players about never losing to the Bears during his playing days, and he still remembers what it felt like to play in those games.
“Just playing in the Morgan-Coppin game was always special and hyped up in trying to see who was the best in the city,” Stewart said.
The teams split the series last season, with the home team winning both games. Both teams returned most of their rosters from last year, but Morgan State lost two key players in Tiwian Kendley and Phillip Carr. Both are in the NBA G League and had some of their best games against Coppin State.
One player who has stepped up is junior guard Stanley Davis. Davis saw regular playing time as a freshman and sophomore, but this season he’s starting and has made his impact felt offensively and defensively.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a stopper, like I can guard anyone,” said Davis, who leads Morgan State in rebounds and scoring this season. “My mindset going into every game this season was defense first and the offense will come.”
While Davis says he’s usually calm when he plays against Coppin State, he said it was a lot to take in as a freshman.
“My freshman year, I was just so overwhelmed with the crowd, the noise and just the intensity of my first real rivalry game in college,” Davis said.
Yet, no matter what happens Saturday, the two teams play for the 91st time on March 7, their final game of the regular season.