COLUMBUS, Ohio – On a cold night in Columbus, Ohio, two warriors met at center court in Nationwide Arena. Punches were thrown and blows were dealt – it was a glorious melee.
But as is the nature of these types of conflicts, only one warrior was able to walk away to fight another day. The 16 seeded Rattlers battled with the top seeded University of Kentucky Wildcats. And lost.
The underdog Rattlers kept it close with the Wildcats for 30 of the 40-minute match. But a bigger, stronger and deeper Kentucky team eventually delivered a 96-76 knock out to an exhausted Rattler team.
“Our guys really truly believed we could win this game,” said Mike Gillespie Sr., FAMU’s head coach.
It was obvious that the Rattlers played, by many accounts, a magnificent first half.
To Kentucky’s 60, FAMU ended the period with 52 points, with a 55.3 field goal percentage and hit eight of 17 three point shots attempted. Both points off turnovers and second chance points were in favor of the Rattlers, while senior guard Terrence Woods ended the half with 20 points.
“I don’t think (the game plan) going in was to outscore them, but we certainly tried,” Gillespie said. “We had to shoot a lot of threes and we did.”
However, the talent of Kentucky is undeniable as they made an outstanding 64.7 percent of their field goals attempted and sunk nine of 15 threes. Guard Gerald Fitch answered Woods’ 20-point first period with 20 of his own. Kentucky dominated the boards and their bench production was also higher.
At the conclusion of the first half, the stellar performance of both teams almost guaranteed a spectacular second period.
But as UK head coach Tubby Smith said, “It was a tale of two halves.”
“It was up and down. No control, everybody letting loose. We really didn’t control the tempo in the first half,” Fitch said.
Kentucky remedied that problem at halftime with a refocused game plan that included slowing down the pace and locking down Woods offensively.
“If they don’t have [Woods’] offense, we felt that they couldn’t keep up with us,” said Kentucky senior guard Cliff Hawkins.
The emphasized defense on Woods, who was not at 100 percent coming out at halftime, limited him to four points on one of six shooting from the field.
The change of pace proved too much for the out manned Rattlers to overcome as UK started to edge away with about 10 minutes to go.
“We ran out of gas second half, but we gave it our all though,” Woods said.
Fans were treated to a game senior guard Demarcus Wilkins paralleled to a heavyweight bout in which two fighters trade their best punches and no one falls. But as is the case in these sort of contests, someone has to fall.
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