Before the 6 p.m. tipoff at Coppin State University’s Physical Education Complex, a thick line of fans that snaked around the block waited patiently to enter the arena for a glimpse at the evening’s star attraction, Baltimore native Angel Reese and her defending national champion LSU women’s basketball squad.

Reese was definitely worth the price of admission, scoring 26 points, grabbing six rebounds and swiping five steals, a career high, in LSU’s 80-48 win. Her teammate Flau’Jae Johnson dazzled with her shooting, mercurial forays to the rim and pinpoint passing en route to 18 points, three assists, three steals and four rebounds. Forward Aneesah Morrow dominated in the paint for LSU, scoring 13 points and snatching 13 rebounds to go with four steals.

Tiffany Hammond hit seven 3-pointers for Coppin, scoring a team-high 21 points to complement her three assists.

“The vibe in the building tonight literally gave me goosebumps,” said Rodney Elliott, the former star Dunbar player and All-Atlantic Coast Conference forward at the University of Maryland in the mid- to late 1990s. “To blossom into this national sensation known as the Bayou Barbie, and to come back home to play in front of your family, friends, neighbors and former high school teachers, teammates and coaches is special. I know she had to enjoy that. Women’s basketball is in great shape right now, and we’re not just talking about national powerhouses like LSU and South Carolina, but also these smaller HBCU schools.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Another interested observer was seventh grader Khloe Ison, a Baltimore native who’s rated among the top players in the country.

“It was a great experience being here tonight,” said Ison, who also attended the free clinic that the two Angels, Reese and McCoughtry, hosted last summer at St. Frances. “Watching the defending national champions in person tonight, in my hometown, was pretty cool. The energy in the building was top tier. Angel brought her own level of energy, and she had a lot of people that came out to watch her tonight. And the Coppin fans that brought their own elevated energy were cool too.”

LSU basketball star and Baltimore native Angel Reese hosted a basketball clinic at Saint Frances Academy on July 19, 2023.
Top young prospect Khloe Ison put in some work as LSU basketball star and Baltimore native Angel Reese hosted a basketball clinic in June. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

But this game was about much more than the final score and stat lines.

“When LSU called us last year and said they wanted to schedule this game here in Baltimore, there was no hesitation on our part,” Coppin coach Jermaine Woods said. “It’s pretty cool when you’re a small HBCU and you get to tell recruits, ‘Hey, you’ll get a chance to play against the defending national champions at our place next year if you come here.’ We knew this would be a great opportunity, not just for the team but for the entire university.

“The proceeds from this game alone provided us with our entire recruiting budget for the next cycle moving forward. This was a huge fundraiser for us, that’s a fact. My athletic director won’t let me tell you how much we made tonight, but we did good.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

If the playing field was level, Reese freely admits that her preference would have been to play at an HBCU. After all, two of her aunts attended Coppin and played basketball there.

“Coming back to my hometown to play at a Historically Black College in my hometown was very meaningful for me,” Reese said after the game as a throng of fans screamed her name. “For the young people from Baltimore to have a chance to come out and see us, to see the opportunities that they could one day have for themselves, was something that was important to me.”

When Reese was younger, she was always in search of opportunities that could stretch her mind in terms of what was possible. She found inspiration in Angel McCoughtry, an older St. Frances alum whose father played at Coppin State.

“Seeing what Angel did in college and the WNBA, winning Olympic gold medals with Team USA, that inspired me to dream big, thinking that could one day be possible for me,” Reese said. “Being someone that this next generation of kids can latch on to and build their dreams around means a lot to me, and I take that responsibility seriously.”

“Being someone they look up to is something I’ve embraced,” she added. “Being able to come home and do that means a little bit more to me. I’m from Baltimore. I was the Baltimore Barbie before the Bayou Barbie.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Walking around the arena, in addition to the blaring music being played by the band and on the overhead speakers, it was difficult not to notice the constant ringing of cash registers at the concession stands and the tables where expensive Coppin State apparel was being sold.

“Tonight, we sold more apparel than at any other local women’s college basketball game I’ve been to,” Tre Harbin said as people waited in front of his table, which featured many high-end sweatshirts and sweatsuits that retail for over $100. “We do all of the [Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association] and [Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference] official merchandise, and tonight we sold more product than at any other game that I’ve been to.”

And it wasn’t just about the dollars being generated for Coppin, as evidenced by the overflow of young ladies staring wide-eyed at the action.

“It feels really good to be here and watch Angel and some of the other great players like Flau’Jae Johnson, who is a straight-up dog,” said 14-year-old Khloe Mills, who was among the first in line in July for a meet and greet with Reese at a local DTLR event. “Meeting Angel this summer was awesome, and watching her play here tonight, in Baltimore, was an incredible experience that I won’t forget.”

Khloe’s father, Rashad Mills, is a graduate of Morgan State and a huge supporter of local HBCU sports. The Coppin State vs. LSU game provided an extra dimension to his already fevered love of his local schools.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“I’ve been to a lot of men’s and women’s HBCU college basketball games, but I have never in my life experienced a vibe like this before on the local scene,” Mills said. “Obviously, the energy in the building is attributable to Angel Reese coming home. To bring her global presence and popularity back home, to an HBCU where some of her family attended, to the city where she’s from, is beyond amazing. It’s a Wednesday evening in December, a few days before Christmas, and the building is standing room only.

“And as far as Coppin is concerned, I read a quote the other day that said, ‘You can still get a victory without the win.’ Between the money they generated tonight and the overall exposure just shines an even brighter light on Coppin and HBCU women’s basketball.”

Alejandro Danois was a sports writer for The Banner. He specializes in long-form storytelling, looking at society through the prism of sports and its larger connections with the greater cultural milieu. The author of The Boys of Dunbar, A Story of Love, Hope and Basketball, he is also a film producer and cultural critic.

More From The Banner