Buckeyes hang on to beat Coppin State in season opener, 58-51

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 26, 2002

COLUMBUS -- Coppin State had Ohio State on the run -- but ran out of gas with the finish line in sight.

''We were in a position where we thought we had the game where it needed to be,'' Eagles coach Ron ''Fang'' Mitchell said.

Instead, Emonte Jernigan and Matt Sylvester made big plays in the closing minutes as Ohio State held on for a 58-51 season-opening win Monday night.

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''We had some turnovers and breakdowns down the stretch,'' Mitchell said. ''I hate turnovers and I can't stand breakdowns, but I have to be realistic with a young crew like I have.''

Short-handed Ohio State was in trouble most of the night but never trailed by more than three points.

Earlier in the day, Ohio State learned that starting point guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham (knee surgery) and backup forward Shun Jenkins (broken finger) would be sidelined for three to five weeks.

The Buckeyes have games in the next three weeks against Alabama, Pittsburgh and Duke -- currently ranked 4-5-6 in the country.

''This is very good for us,'' Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien said of the close call. ''I wasn't saying that a half an hour ago. But it's a nice win for us. Maybe it's better than winning by 18 or 20.''

Coppin State (0-3), which had lost at No. 13 Marquette 64-46 and to Idaho State 63-55 in its first two games, led 49-48 on Darron Bradley's 3-pointer with 3:48 left.

Jernigan transferred to Ohio State a year ago after playing one season at Santa Rosa Junior College and the 2000-2001 season at Oregon State.

He followed Bradley's 3-pointer with one of his own from the left wing with 3:30 left to key a 10-0 run by the Buckeyes.

''We were just running a pass-and-cut offense and the zone gave me a chance,'' said Jernigan, a backup shooting guard who finished with eight points. ''I felt good about shooting down the stretch.''

After the Eagles missed two shots inside, Zach Williams hit a free throw to make it 52-49.

Brent Darby, who led the Buckeyes with 18 points, then stole the ball and Jernigan threw a 40-foot pass to Sean Connolly for an easy layup with 1:44 left.

Ohio State's Matt Sylvester blocked Raheem Scott's layup and seconds later fed Jernigan with a crosscourt pass for a backdoor layup that made it 56-49.

Darby added two free throws to end the surge.

Connolly scored 12 points and Williams had 11 for Ohio State.

Larry Tucker led Coppin State with 20 points, but scored just two in the second half.

''Zach was really focused on him at the half and in the huddles,'' O'Brien said. ''He was very animated in regard to, 'Tucker's not scoring. Tucker's not scoring.'''

Mitchell said the Buckeyes -- and Williams -- took Tucker out of the game.

''They found him,'' he said. ''It was just like in football -- you keep a spy on him. Somebody's always near.''

The Eagles came in shooting 39 percent from the field but hit 70 percent in the first half to lead 30-27 before the Buckeyes -- bewildered by a matchup zone -- scored six points in the final 23 seconds for a 33-30 lead.

''We're not down on ourselves,'' Darby said. ''A close game early in the season can help you.''