Coppin State’s quaint Physical Education Complex had people sitting in seats Wednesday that had never been used in the 14-year history of the arena.
That’s for men’s or women’s basketball.
The arrival of defending national champion No. 7 LSU and its marquee player – Baltimore native Angel Reese – changed the HBCU school’s history books.
Reese made a triumphant homecoming with a game-high 26 points, six rebounds and five steals to lead LSU to a 80-48 victory over Coppin State before a sold out crowd of 4,100 – the first sell out in school history.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Reese said. “I knew people were going to come out and support. They love me here. Baltimore’s always had my back and being able to come back to home to people that will always love me, is something that’s super special and special to me teammates.”
LSU coach Kim Mulkey understands the impact Reese has had on women’s basketball, not just when the Tigers play at home.
“If you look at our (TV) ratings, every time we play and it doesn’t matter who we play, the ratings are just crazy,” Mulkey said in reference to last year’s 9.9 million viewers for the national title game. “They’re better than pro sports. You saw an arena tonight that sold out a long time ago and it’s because of Angel Reese. It’s because of a national championship. It’s because of how we play the game. It was very visible.
“It’s not just here,” Mulkey said. “Look at the attendance in the SEC when we’re on the road and just leaving the arena. You can’t get out without people not wanting an autograph or a picture. Our team has brought that kind of recognition and attention and that’s good not just for us, but women’s basketball.”
LSU (12-1) takes a 12-game winning streak into the Christmas break.
The return of Reese couldn’t have been more seamless. She played tour guide for her teammates on a trip around her hometown, where she led St. Frances Academy to three state championships, and was able to attend a basketball game Tuesday at the University of Maryland – her former school – to watch her brother Julian play.
“I don’t get to come home much,” Reese said, “but this part was really special to me and it was my homecoming.”
Reese was one of three players to score in double figures. She was joined by Flau’jae Johnson’s 18 points and Aneesah Morrow enjoyed her seventh consecutive double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. She added four steals and three blocked shots.
Point guard Last-Tear Poa dished out a career-high eight assists and freshman Aalyah Del Rosario added eight points to go with 10 rebounds.
“Sometimes when you go home, you can have a terrible game because you’re so tight and want to do really good for everybody,” said Mulkey, who said she was under the weather. “People say you can’t go home. I don’t believe that at all. Your home is where your roots are and where you usually become who you are. It makes you feel good.”
LSU turned a 40-26 halftime edge into a 32-point route. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Tigers became the first defending champion to visit a HBCU school.
LSU shot 47.8% (32 of 67) from the field, had a 48-26 rebound advantage and a dominant 52-12 showing in the paint. They also outscored the Panthers 24-6 edge in fastbreak points and 26-8 on points off turnovers.
“Shout out to coach Mulkey and LSU for the opportunity to come here to Coppin State to play this game,” Coppin State coach Jermaine Woods. “This game was huge, not just for the HBCU culture, but for what we need budgetary wise. We did well off this game and is going to help us supplement our budget.”
LSU built a pair of 36-point leads in the fourth quarter, the latter coming on Johnson’s snowbird layup that made it 74-38 with 5:27 remaining in the game.
Mulkey was able to take Reese out of the game with 3:18 to play and LSU comfortably ahead 77-46 after Del Rosario’s free throw.
“This is my home first,” Reese said. “I’m the ‘Baltimore Barbie’ before I’m the ‘Bayou Barbie’.”
Del Rosario added the final three points of the game with a layup and free throw in the final two minutes of play.
Johnson opened the second half with her second 3-pointer and LSU scored the first seven points to open a 47-26 lead on Johnson’s steal and layup.
Freshman Mikaylah Williams ended her 0 of 6 start from the floor with a pull-up jumper to make it 53-29 and Morrow reached her eighth double-double of the season (13 points, 11 rebounds) with a putback to increase the score to 57-31 with 4:23 left to play.
Reese split two defenders for a layup, took a 60-foot pass from Poa and scored on a layup and Williams finished a three-point play for a 64-33 advantage with 2:22 to go.
LSU’s 50% shooting (9 of 18) in the opening quarter was the catalyst in the team’s 40-26 halftime lead.
Reese and Johnson combined on 15 of the team’s first 17 points for a 17-3 lead just under five minutes into the game. Johnson’s drive off a steal from Reese capped an 11-0 run.
LSU maintained a double-digit lead throughout the remainder of the quarter with Johnson dropping in her first 3-pointer of the game for a 22-8 lead and Morrow’s two free throws gave her team a 24-10 cushion after the opening quarter.
Tiffany Hammond, who had a team-high 21 on the strength of seven 3-pointers, kept Coppin State (3-10) afloat with a pair of 3-pointers two minutes into the second quarter – reducing LSU’s lead to 28-18 – and Charia Roberts’ basket pulled the Panthers to within 28-20.
That was the last time Coppin State faced a single-digit deficit.
Poa ended a season-long 0 of 10 stretch from behind the arc with her first 3-pointer that triggered a 9-1 run, a span that included the second 3-pointer of the season from freshman Janae Kent, for a 38-20 lead at the 3:58 mark before settling for a 40-26 halftime lead.
“It was important because this is Angel Reese’s hometown area,” Mulkey said. “We were just grateful that we could work it out. The majority of people out there came to see Angel Reese and LSU. It was good for women’s basketball.”