In some ways, Wednesday’s game between Tech and Coppin State was emblematic of how games between talented low/mid-major schools and power-conference programs often go. CSU hung tough for much of the game, keeping the score close and actually holding the lead until midway through the second half. They relied on accurate outside shooting to stay in the game, but eventually that faltered. Thanks to a great game from center Ben Lammers, who had a double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and a great team-wide effort at the free-throw line, the Jackets finally pulled away.
There are a few problems with that generalization, though. Let’s start with the biggest one:
Coppin State was 0-13 entering the game.
This was not a mid-major opponent that was likely to contend for a regular-season conference title and had a chance to make some noise in the postseason. This was an opponent that was winless in 2017-18, was ranked No. 345 (out of 351) in the KenPom ratings, and was dead last among all D-I schools in points per game. Coppin State had not won a non-conference game against a Division I opponent since 2013.
And yet with nine minutes left in Wednesday’s game, they held a slim lead over Tech in McCamish Pavilion and had not trailed for 21 minutes of game action.
Tech ultimately pulled away over the final minutes, using a late 23-6 run to open up a big lead en route to a 76-62 victory. A slew of free throws helped Tech open up the lead, and a flashy Josh Okogie dunk with 4:12 left gave Tech a 67-57 lead and all but sealed the game for the home team.
It took a while to get to that point, though, and it wasn’t pretty.
The game started slowly. CSU fielded a relatively undersized lineup, so they leaned heavily on outside shooting to avoid having to challenge Ben Lammers on the interior. On the other end, CSU stayed tight underneath defensively to prevent Tech from getting the ball to the post, and in doing so they conceded plenty of three-point shots and midrange jumpers. Early on, both teams were mostly missing, so the first few minutes were uneventful and Tech took a 5-3 lead into the first TV timeout.
Tech seemed to be building a lead a few minutes later at 13-8, but a bad sequence turned things around. The Jackets gave up back-to-back buckets on fast breaks right before the second TV timeout, and on the possession immediately afterward, they turned it over. CSU’s first three-point attempt off the turnover was an air ball, but guard Tre’ Thomas snagged the offensive rebound and kicked it to Lucian Brownlee, who drained his attempt to give CSU a 15-13 lead.
For the next 21 minutes of game action, the Jackets could not reclaim the lead. They mostly sat back in zone and rarely stepped up to contest CSU’s shooters, who were all too willing to take open shots—and ended up draining a lot of them. Transition defense was messy too; late in the first half, Tech was in total disarray on a CSU fast break and allowed winger Adam Traore to slice in for a dunk, which gave the Eagles a 28-22 lead. The Jackets cut into the lead by working the ball inside to Lammers and freshman forward Moses Wright, but ultimately CSU hung on and took a 33-30 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Jackets had a scary moment early in the second half when, with 18:30 on the clock, point guard Jose Alvarado scored on a layup but took an incidental elbow to the back of the head from a CSU player who had gone up to block it. Alvarado left the game and did not return; his status was not immediately available.
With Alvarado hurt, backup Justin Moore away from the team for personal reasons, and guard Josh Okogie struggling (he had not hit a basket up to that point), the Jackets ended up using winger Brandon Alston as the primary ballhandler. For a team that was already struggling to build any sort of offensive rhythm, that didn’t exactly help... but after a few possessions, Tech started to get back on track.
CSU remained ahead by a slim margin early in the second half, but some odd trends were developing. Up to this point, the Jackets had hit every single one of their free throws. On the other end, because of Tech’s soft defensive posture and CSU’s willingness to take open outside shots, the Eagles had not even had a single free throw attempt. And that continued even as Tech began to surge ahead.
CSU pulled ahead 51-46 with 11:15 left, but that was when Tech took control of the game. A pair of Jackson free throws on the next possession made it 51-48, and then Okogie tied the game with a three-pointer, his first basket of the night. CSU responded with a three of their own, but a Lammers putback and an Okogie layup on Tech’s next two possessions finally gave Tech the lead.
The Jackets began attacking the basket more and more aggressively, both via passes to Lammers inside and attempts to drive to the basket, and they drew contact from a tiring Eagles lineup. Tech’s next eight points all came on free throws; four of them were the result of a technical foul on a Lammers shot attempt. The last of those gave the Jackets a 63-54 lead with 5:05 left and made them 20-for-20 from the free throw line.
From that point on, the game was in hand. CSU finally got to the free throw line for the first time with 3:29 left, and unfortunately Tech’s perfect mark at the line ended when Alston missed a free throw with 0:43 to go. By then the game was all but over, and Tech went on to wrap up the 76-62 victory.
The star of the game for Tech was Lammers, who stuffed the stat sheet with 22 points, 11 rebounds, and six blocks. CSU simply had no one who could match up with the 6-foot-10 center on either end, and Lammers paved the way as Tech won the rebounding battle 41-24. Still, the Eagles were able to get past him on fast breaks a few times for layups. Lammers has been playing heavy minutes while nursing an injury for several weeks now, and that will continue when the Jackets open ACC play this weekend.
Okogie bounced back from his early struggles to hit three of his final four shots, and he finished with 13 points and six rebounds. Jackson had a strong game, racking up 17 points and nine rebounds, and freshman forward Evan Cole added six rebounds off the bench. For CSU, Cedric Council had 17 points and Lamar Morgan added 12 as they shot 46.2 percent (12-for-26) from three-point range in the game.
It’ll go in the books as a win for Tech, but the fact that the Jackets struggled to put away a winless MEAC squad is concerning, to say the least. They’ll need a more energetic defensive effort, particularly on the perimeter, to have any hope at Notre Dame on Saturday. Regardless, the bench is already thin, and if Alvarado ends up having to miss any significant amount of time, the Jackets could be in bad shape heading into the start of the ACC schedule.