After losing several key players from last year’s team, including Michael Griffith and Jermaine Hill, the FAMU basketball team has been forced to make up for their absence.
That challenge began Tuesday night in Gaither Gymnasium with a 73-65 exhibition win over Valdosta State.
Tony Tate, a transfer point guard from Globe Tech Junior College in New York, made his Rattler debut, scoring 12 points with 5 assists.
His presence was felt early with five quick points that helped put the team ahead 8-2 with 17:58 left in the first half.
“Their guards showed us early that they wanted to get after us,” Tate said.
“It was because of my killer instinct that I wanted to get right back at them.”
Defensive schemes such as a full-court press and a 2-3 zone gave the Rattlers full control of Valdosta State and forced 23 turnovers.
Coach Mike Gillespie was proud of the defensive effort, but saw signs where improvement was needed.
“We have confidence in our press,” Gillespie said. “At some points in the game though, our rotation wasn’t there. If we can eliminate these breakdowns, we should be fine.”
There were positive signs that the press worked.
With 6:33 left in the first half, Terrence Woods forced a turnover at half court, resulting in a breakaway dunk by sophomore guard Jonathan Kelly.
Woods, who was second in scoring in the MEAC last season with 20.5 points per game, struggled early from the field, going 2-6 in the first half.
Even though he was hampered with a sore thumb and the flu, Woods was able to contribute 14 points.
Junior Michael Ayodele led the Rattlers in scoring with 15 points, including shooting 3 for 4 from the 3-point range.
He also grabbed three offensive rebounds, helping the Rattlers win the second chance point battle 13-12.
“I think Ayodele’s more athletic this year than he was last year,” Gillespie said. “That can definitely be a plus for us.”
Several players, including Moses White and O.J. Sumter, key contributors to last season’s success, were sidelined with bad knees.
Gillespie said once Sumter returns, the inside scoring will improve greatly.
“O.J.’s rehab is going well and hopefully he’ll be back for our first game,” Gillespie said. “Right now, our strength is in the perimeter game.”
This was evident as the Rattlers were outscored 40-29 in the paint. The team hopes to give more of a challenge once it is at full strength.
“Rick Russell wasn’t even in the rotation tonight,” Gillespie said. “He’s a big body who can play you down low or take you outside. Each guy just has to know that they have a role to play on this team and they need to play it.”
The team’s first game is Nov. 23 at Illinois State and its first home game is Nov. 25 against Cleveland State at 7 p.m.