The Rattlers appeared to heat up leftovers from the success of last season’s MEAC tournament victory over South Carolina State Monday night in a 67-60 win over the Bulldogs. The victory gave validity to the about-face from the regular season to the postseason last year, which saw the Rattlers go down twice to South Carolina State in the regular season.
In what was shaped up to be a homecoming for Bulldog forward Thurman Zimmerman, who scored 39 points last March in a 75-66 South Carolina State win in Gaither, instead it turned out to be a Rattler defensive wake-up call. Zimmerman, currently averaging 21.3 points against MEAC opponents, was held to 15 points on 4-7 shooting.
“I think we played as good defense on him as we possibly could,” said Rattler Head Coach Mike Gillespie. “It was a team effort, team contribution from everybody.”
Gillespie was pleased with the play of forward Brian Zamore and center O.J. Sumter on Zimmerman. Both were active on the defensive glass, combining for nine defensive rebounds between them.
“We really concentrated on Zimmerman,” Gillespie said. “We tried to keep the ball out of his hands and force other guys to beat us and we did do that tonight.”
Bulldog guard Shawn Wiggins was the “other guy” who was forced to pick up the slack in place of Zimmerman. Wiggins scored 24 points, going 10-14 from the field, including shooting 50 percent from behind the arc. His 24 points marked a season-high for Wiggins.
Rattler forward Michael Harper was suspended for the North Carolina A&T game last Saturday due to a violation of team rules. His insertion into the lineup Monday proved to be the extra kick needed to get the victory. Trailing 2-12 early in the game, Harper came off the bench and hit two crucial 3-pointers to spark an 8-0 Rattler run. “I was real anxious to get back (from the suspension),” Harper said. “I hate sitting and watching, but I like coming off the bench. That’s my mindset, to bring energy off the bench.”
Harper finished with 14 points and five rebounds.
Leading the team in scoring with 15 points a game, guard Tony Tate struggled early from the field. The offensive plays set Tate up for open jumpers from the perimeter, but for Tate, the rim appeared to have a lid on it.
“It’s a mental game and if you let it break you, it’ll break you,” Tate said. “If you come out there and be positive with yourself and the team, good things will happen. That’s what I was doing all night.”
Tate did not let the off shooting discourage him. Instead, he found other ways to score. By penetrating the lane, Tate got to the foul line and converted 7-7 free throws.
“I got in here with the coaches and I shot like 200 free throws a day,” Tate said. “I just kept working on them and when I get my rhythm back, everything is going to fall.”
Despite being in foul trouble throughout the game, Tate led the Rattlers with 19 points.
One player beginning to find his role is forward Jonathan Kelly. His previous stagnant play has been replaced with a more offensive-efficient style. Kelly is averaging 11.6 points a game over the past five games, a giant leap from the 5.3 points he averaged last season.
“Lately I’ve just been trying to stay aggressive,” Kelly said. “When I have the ball in my hands, I’ve just been trying to make something happen. If I can take my man, I’ll take him. If not, I’ll just kick it out and look for somebody.”
Kelly finished with 13 points and four rebounds.
FAMU was also pleased with the support of the crowd acting as the sixth man on the court in a close game.
“Towards the end of the game when we were making our run, the crowd started to really get into it,” Kelly said. “That’s going to be really important (for our homestand). Our crowd staying with us and not giving up on us is going to be real good.”
Contact LeMont Calloway at email@example.com.