The will of the Rattler was severely tested Saturday night by a winless Maryland-Eastern Shore team (0-11, 0-3) in a double overtime thriller in Gaither Gymnasium.
And it passed as the Rattlers were able to overcome a 41-point outburst by UM-ES’s leading scorer (junior guard) Tee Trotter, a 10-point second half deficit and a five-point deficit late in the second overtime to pull away with a deserving 92-89 win.
“Everyone that played contributed,” said head coach Mike Gillespie.
Coach Gillespie couldn’t say it any better because everyone did contribute, especially five stars that shined so brightly in this team’s first conference win, that the moon’s company was on the brink of jealousy.
Junior guard Terrence Woods had been nursing a sinus infection and didn’t start, but coach Gillespie couldn’t keep his leading scorer on the bench with his team down 43-52 at around the 14-minute mark in the second half, so an ailing Woods went in.
“If we didn’t have to play him (Woods), then I wouldn’t have played him,” said Gillespie as Woods finished with 19 points.
The Rattlers then went on a 6-0 run that finally got them back into the game, but it took them around 11 minutes to grab the lead.
Junior forward O.J. Sumter, who has had trouble with swelling in his right knee, finally put his team on top, 69-68, with an eight-foot jump-hook and 1:03 remaining.
Then a hobbling Sumter came down on the other end and blocked a floater by Trotter to try to put the game out of reach.
“I was just trying to gut it out,” Sumter said. “I’m not going to lie, my knee is still not 100 percent.”
However, two missed free throws in the last minute gave UMES the opportunity to tie the game at 70 on a put-back by forward Didier Socka and the game went into overtime.
On the heels of an early 5-0 run, UM-ES had a chance to seal the overtime win, but guard Lawrence Smith missed two crucial free throws with his team up 80-78 and only 21 seconds on the clock.
Rattler star No. 3, junior guard Demarcus Wilkins, took this opportunity to shine.
He took the inbound pass, dribbled intently down the court, drove middle and hit a floater in the paint from 10 feet to tie the score at 80 with 4 seconds remaining.
Wilkins was fouled on the play, but he missed the free throw, making a second overtime necessary.
UM-ES senior forward Ali Troutman fouled Wilkins out on that play, becoming the third Fighting Hawks’ big man to foul out, forcing the team to play five guards in the second overtime.
It was now time for the Rattlers to pound the ball inside to 6-foot-10 inch senior center Jermaine Hill, who was hungry for the rock.
“It was getting kind of frustrating because in the first overtime it looked like they were overlooking me a little bit,” Hill said.
“But that’s one thing coach has been emphasizing these last couple games was to get the ball inside because every time it goes inside good things happen.”
Good things happened, of course, after the Rattlers found themselves down by five (84-89) with 1 minute 37 seconds left when Trotter scored his ninth-point of this second overtime that he clearly tried to take over.
Trotter said after the game that it was the hardest game he’d ever played, but one man can only do so much.
Hill scored six unanswered points, adding to his team-high total of 20, and Wilkins canned two clutch free throws as the Rattlers limped away with the grueling win.
Coach Gillespie commented after the game that it was by far the best game of senior guard Michael Griffith’s season.
Griffith scored 16 points, grabbed nine rebounds (five offensive) and most importantly, shut down Trotter late in the second overtime.
“This was a real confidence builder,” Griffith said. “I needed this in the worst way.”
The Rattlers (5-6) will try to win their third straight tonight against Howard in Gaither Gymnasium.