BALTIMORE, Md. — For the first time in a long time the Coppin State Eagles men's basketball team is soaring in January.
"This is by far the best team we’ve had since we’ve been a coaching staff here," said Juan Dixon. The Maryland Terrapins legend is in his fourth year as Coppin Head Coach.
With a 5-1 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference record, first place Coppin is off to its best start in 16 years. It’s exactly the kind of gains Dixon has been eyeing.
"This is the vision we had when we took over the program our first year," he said. "It’s been a journey. It’s been a grind."
Redshirt senior guard DeJuan Clayton has been around for it all.
"To start off the MEAC 5-1 is great for me. [It] just shows how much hard work I’ve put in, the coaching staff, to finally be in first place," he said.
Now come the biggest games of the regular season. They Eagles (6-9, 5-1) host rival Morgan State (8-4,3-2) on Saturday and Sunday. This year the pandemic won’t allow either school's fans to pack PEC Arena.
"The rivalry is still there, of course," said Clayton. "A lot of trash talk going on, but it’s kind of different because we have to create our own energy."
"We know it’s going to be a physical basketball game," added Dixon. "They don’t stop. They are relentless. Offensively they are playing much faster."
Yeah they are.
The Bears, right behind Coppin in the standings, lead the MEAC scoring 82 points per game. It’s the kind of ball Head Coach Kevin Broadus likes to see in his second year.
"We wanted to have multi guys on the floor that can shoot the ball and can score the ball and I think that we do," he said.
One of those guys is Malik Miller. The junior guard is averaging about 14 points and 8 rebounds per game.
"We are getting a lot of points in transition. We are sharing the ball. We’re playing like a team," he said.
The Bears and Eagles split a pair of games at Morgan a couple weeks ago.
"I feel like we’re a better team than them this year. I feel like we’re a better team," said Miller.
"They are going to give us their best shot. That’s something before me that’s going to live long after me," added Broadus. "Coppin-Morgan, you know that’s how it is and how it’s going to be. We’re going to get their best shot no matter what their record is,"
As for no fans in the stands for this rivalry, Morgan guard Sherwyn Devonish-Prince said: "Super weird. It’s the rowdiness. That’s definitely what’s missing."