December 21, 2023 

Coppin State’s sellout crowd transforms Angel Reese homecoming

Reese: 'This is my home'

BALTIMORE — Between the third and fourth quarters of sixth-ranked LSU’s 80-48 victory over Coppin State in a non-conference women’s basketball game at a sold-out Physical Education Complex Wednesday night, the brothers of Omega Psi Phi, a historically Black fraternity, stepped and stomped near the court as soon as the in-house disc-jockey played the classic George Clinton song, “Atomic Dog.”

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The first sellout crowd in PEC history got hyped.

A few minutes later, they exploded during another fourth-quarter media timeout when the DJ played Juvenile’s timeless classic “Back That Thing Up.” The buzzing building crackled as fans — including one wearing a purple-and-gold sequin jacket waving purple pom-poms a few rows behind the LSU bench —started dancing in the aisles and on the concourse as soon as the iconic lyrics, “cash money records taking over for the 99-2000” echoed through the facility that opened in 2009. 

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The vibes were terrific from beginning to end because the game served as a celebratory homecoming for Baltimore native and LSU junior forward Angel Reese, who didn’t disappoint by scoring a game-high 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting in 32 electrifying minutes. 

“This is my home,” a smiling Reese said during the postgame press conference. “I was the Baltimore Barbie before I was the Bayou Barbie. When I was young, I wanted an opportunity and a moment that could stretch my mind. Right now, I am at a point where I have stretched little girls’ and little boys’ minds to where they know they can be in this position one day. Being able to be a leader and someone people look up to is something I embrace. I know I have a great representation not only in Baltimore but in the world.”

Meanwhile, Coppin State redshirt junior guard Tiffany Hammond put on a shooting show with seven 3-pointers and 21 points. Everybody, including boxer and Baltimore native Gervonta “Tank” Davis, who was in attendance, was entertained. Davis is the current lightweight champion.

Coppin State’s Tiffany Hammond shoots over LSU’s Flau’jae Johnson during LSU’s victory. Hammond made seven 3-pointers and finished with 21 points to lead Coppin State. Johnson added 18 points for LSU, which extended its winning streak to 12. Credit Coppin State Athletics/TagTheShooter Photography

It was also a special night for Coppin State as it celebrated its annual “Play for Kay” contest in which breast cancer survivors walked out on the floor with a member of the Coppin State starting lineup as it was introduced. LSU head coach Kim Mulkey signed Woods’ shiny pink blazer he wore during the game, and it will be auctioned off with the proceeds going to the Play For Kay foundation.

“We raised money, which was a big deal,” Woods said. “Having that piece with it and LSU here made the game much more important. Shout out to coach Mulkey and LSU to come to Coppin State on North Avenue and allow us to play this game. This game was huge not just for HBCU culture but for what we needed budgetary-wise. This will help us supplement our budget, and I want to make sure I give her credit for that because she had to sign off on the contract.” 

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The festive atmosphere, in which fans, many of them wearing Angel Reese t-shirts, purple No. 10 jerseys, or Coppin State’s familiar navy blue-and-gold paraphernalia, sat shoulder-to-shoulder and stood two-to-three deep along the railing on the concourse above the court, was a combination cookout, block party, and Beyonce concert.

Reese, who arrived with LSU at 4:46 p.m. with an armed officer by her side, wearing white earbuds and carrying a brown Louis Vuitton bag, tried to treat this like any other game. It wasn’t. She had at least ten cameras recording her every dribble, jump shot, and sprint during her pregame routine. Reese got 20 tickets for family and friends, including her mom, Angel, who sat in the fifth row behind LSU’s bench. The entire Saint Frances Academy, Reese’s alma mater, girls basketball team was in the building.

Clusters of enthusiastic spectators squeezed into tight spaces near the LSU team entrance in the arena with their camera phones raised high so they could get the best picture possible of Reese when she walked onto the floor for the first time at 4:52 p.m.

There was one pregame false alarm in which Coppin State security personnel thought LSU’s bus arrived and halted hallway traffic — which included Maryland governor Wes Moore’s security-detail team, who was doing a sweep of the building. Alas, it was the Coppin State pep band arriving. They added to the ear-splitting environment by playing popular tunes that had people grooving. 

Reese received several loud ovations when she was introduced as a starter, scored her first basket following one of her career-high five steals, and exited the contest for the final time with 3:19 remaining. She high-fived Mulkey and her teammates before sitting down and drinking from a blue water bottle one of LSU’s managers provided to her.

“A lot of people came out tonight,” Reese said. “I know they were here supporting Coppin, but being able to play at an HBCU, especially since my aunt went here and my cousin went here, was special. Coming back here and doing a lot for this community and knowing that a lot of little girls can see they have this opportunity one day was important to me.”

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Mulkey was trying to remember if she’d ever coached a road game on an HBCU campus or visited Baltimore despite being a fan of Oriole Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. However, she played at Jackson State as a student-athlete at Louisiana Tech. Mulkey enjoyed the opportunity to play a true road game at an HBCU. LSU will play at Grambling State next season Mulkey said. She and Woods shared a long postgame embrace.

“Coppin State did it up right,” Mulkey said. “Everything was just wonderful. You worry about the outside noise with Angel coming home. She got a chance to see her brother play last night. I knew it would be a great crowd. Coppin State was so appreciative, and that’s what you want.

“I would say probably a majority of the people out there came to see Angel Reese and LSU because a lot of them won’t ever come back unless their child or their relative is playing, but maybe tonight Coppin State gained some fans, and they’ll come back and say that was a lot of fun. Maybe some little girl lives around here, and Coppin State is where she will go to school and play ball someday.”

Three hours before tipoff and one hour before doors opened, a long line of fans was waiting to get into the building as two unmarked police vehicles sat with their lights flashing on Warwick Avenue. The line swelled until it eventually wrapped around the building as daylight disappeared and darkness descended on the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) founded in 1901 by Fannie Jackson Coppin.

Coppin State’s Laila Lawrence, who finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, was pleasantly surprised when she walked out for her pregame shooting drills and saw nearly 1,500 fans in their seats more than 90 minutes before tipoff. Typically, only arena workers and game personnel are in the building.

“That was crazy,” Lawrence said in awe. “It was fun and very loud. Playing in this atmosphere gets you going, and hearing people cheer for you gives you a lot of energy.”

Coppin State’s Laila Lawrence drives past LSU’s Angel Reese Wednesday night. Photo credit Coppin State Athletics/TagTheShooter Photography

Coppin State provided a memorable experience for LSU’s student-athletes and everybody who attended. The Eagles staff did a phenomenal job. Coppin State Sports Information Director Steven Kramer issued over 40 credentials for photographers and reporters. It was the most he ever distributed for a Coppin State women’s game in his six years working at Coppin State. 

Woods thanked the media when he finished his postgame press conference on his way out the door.

Coppin State battled and treated the crowd to some sterling moments, especially after Hammond made an excellent play of saving the ball from going out of bounds by throwing the ball behind her back on the floor to a teammate and finishing the sequence with a 3-pointer from the top of the key that pulled the Eagles to within 28-20 in the second quarter.

The crowd roared.

It wouldn’t be the last time.

This night was bigger than basketball.

It was another reminder of the transformative power of women’s basketball. Fans came. Reese showed out. While both teams will continue to use this game to prepare for their respective conference schedules, many fans departed into the chilly evening with personal memories to last a lifetime, knowing they witnessed something special.

“We did what we needed to give some excitement to Baltimore,” Woods said. “I was happy about the fans in the stands. We had fans. You have the defending champs and Angel, and they saw some good basketball from Coppin State. Hopefully, we can draw some more fans. It was nice to be on the big stage and show people we have something special here at Coppin State.” 

Written by Rob Knox

Rob Knox is an award-winning professional and a member of the Lincoln (Pa.) Athletics Hall of Fame. In addition to having work published in SLAM magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, and Diverse Issues In Higher Education, Knox enjoyed a distinguished career as an athletics communicator for Lincoln, Kutztown, Coppin State, Towson, and UNC Greensboro. He also worked at ESPN and for the Delaware County Daily Times. Recently, Knox was honored by CSC with the Mary Jo Haverbeck Trailblazer Award and the NCAA with its Champion of Diversity award. Named a HBCU Legend by, Knox is a graduate of Lincoln University and a past president of the College Sports Communicators, formerly CoSIDA.

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