Pushed by the wind of six straight wins by an average of 20 points per game against the Rattlers, the Hampton Pirates sailed into Saturday’s game and pirated an 83-80 win in the Gaither Center.
To say that this loss was a heartbreaker for the Rattlers would be an understatement. In front of a raucous homecoming crowd, the Rattlers were up by as many as 18 points in the second half only to fall to the two-time defending regular season and tournament champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
“This is probably one of my most frustrating losses in my 28 years of coaching,” said head coach Mike Gillespie, trying to hold back his emotions.
“All the things you can do to allow a team to get back into the game we did: miss free throws, give up offensive rebounds, allow transition baskets and make some poor decisions with the basketball.”
The Rattlers shot 36.4 percent from the foul line in the second half and gave up 10 crucial offensive rebounds, leading to 13 second-chance points.
Also, during a 13-0 run in the second half that put the Pirates up 78-73 with 33 seconds remaining, the Rattlers allowed four easy transition buckets and committed two turnovers.
“We just did not have our minds right in that second half,” said senior center Abdelkhadre Cisse with his head down. “There was no way we were supposed to lose that game.”
Gillespie agreed that there was a mental breakdown, “Sometimes you begin to play not to lose instead of playing to win.”
In the first half the Rattlers came out and totally shut down the Pirates offense only giving up 27 points on 34.3 percent (12-35) shooting from the field and 16.7 percent (2-12) shooting from behind the arc. FAMU also had their inside/outside game clicking as Woods scored 19 points on five 3-pointers and Cisse and senior center Jermaine Hill combined for another 14 points.
FAMU was up at halftime 41-27.
“I thought they had their ‘A’ game and we came out in the first half with our ‘C’ game,” said Bobby Collins, Hampton’s head coach.
“But the key to our success today was that we defended in the second half. We beat a very, very good basketball team tonight.”
The Rattlers were able to regroup late from the Pirates game-changing 13-0 run. On a quick lay-up by point guard Moses White, the Rattlers cut the Pirates lead to only one, 77-78, with 28 seconds remaining. Then senior guard Michael Griffith fouled sophomore center Devin Green, who scored a team high 23 points, after the Pirates in bounded the ball.
He canned the first free throw, but missed the second. There was a skirmish for the loose ball. Hampton senior guard Isaac Jefferson retrieved the ball near half court but then stepped on the half-court line, which gave the Rattlers the ball on Hampton’s backcourt violation.
The Rattlers would then have one last chance down 79-77 and everybody in the gym knew who the ball was going to – Woods, who already had 27 points.
However, Woods couldn’t come through as the officials called a jump-ball after a Pirate defender tied up his three-point attempt from the wing. The Pirates were awarded the ball and closed the game by making free throws.
Even though the Rattlers dominated the Pirates for around 30 minutes, Woods said very forcefully that they should have gained no confidence from that game.
“You cannot gain any confidence by a loss,” Woods said.
Junior guard Moses White played another tremendous game for the Rattlers, scoring 14 points and dishing out five assists, but it wouldn’t be enough.
The Rattlers are now back at .500 (7-7) in the conference and 12-11 overall, while the Pirates climbed to 11-3 in the MEAC and 15-8 overall.
The Rattlers will try to end their two-game losing streak by a winning tonight in the Gaither Center in their last home game of the season against Norfolk State.
Ibram Rogers can be reached at email@example.com.