Howard’s Cliffone Ault led the Bison with 20 points. FAMU’s Jonathan Kelly missed five of his eight shots.
But their final shots were the ones that counted.
Kelly made his. Ault didn’t and FAMU snuck away with a 77-74 victory Monday night because of it.
With 16 seconds remaining, Kelly made a 10-foot runner in the lane to give the Rattlers a 75-74 lead. In the ensuing possession, Ault’s 15-foot jumper hit the back iron with two seconds remaining – ending any chance of a Bison upset.
In front of 1,701 raucous fans at Gaither Gym the Rattlers won the back and forth game, to improve to 5-5 in conference play.
Led by Tony Tate’s 26 points and Darius Glover’s 20 the Rattlers earned their third consecutive victory over Howard.
“It was a hell of a basketball game. They made a shot at the end of the game and we didn’t,” said Howard head coach Frankie Allen.
“It was a tough loss for us, but a good win for the Rattlers.”
A good win is exactly what the Rattlers needed following a demoralizing 22-point loss to Delaware State Saturday.
“It was very important, we needed a win, no doubt about it,” said Rattler head coach Mike Gillespie.
“We didn’t play exceptionally, but we played well enough to win, which is a good sign.”
However, the signs were not looking too good for the Rattlers in the first half as FAMU missed 10 of its first 14 shots and faced a 13 point, 37-24 deficit with three minutes remaining.
But the Rattlers warmed up, once the late-arriving crowd finished piling into the stands, finishing the half on an 11-4 run to trail 41-35.
“The championship teams will stick together,” said Glover. “The best teams find a way to win.”
Although the Rattlers trailed by a half dozen at the half, the stats would not have indicated so. FAMU had a better shooting percentage, making 13-29 shots (44.8 percent) and doubled the Bison’s scoring in the paint with 20 points.
The second half was dominated by both team’s guard-forward combinations; Tate and Glover combined for 25 points of the Rattlers 42 points while Ault and Will Gant combined for 16 points of Howard’s 33 second half points.
During one nine-minute stretch, Tate and Glover scored 18 consecutive points for the Rattlers in a seven point swing that gave had the Rattlers leading by two.
When asked to comment on both team’s 1-2 punches Tate said he enjoys the challenge of matching up against the opposing team’s best guard on a nightly basis.
“It’s great to challenge other people and to have them challenge you,” Tate said.
“If you look at basketball, it’s a game of runs…. When it comes down to it, who makes the biggest run (wins), and we got the W.”
Neither team ran too far away from the other, in the second half alone the lead changed hands, seven times, with the game being tied four times despite Howard making 48 percent of its shots from the field.
“I’d expect it to be a close game,” said Allen referring to his team’s second half shot selection.
“Anytime you shoot like that (as a) team, you’ll be right there. I expected this kind of ball game, most of our games down here are like that.”
What wasn’t expected was Jonathan Kelly sinking the game-winning shot on a play in which he was the third option on a combination play between Tate and Glover.
“Jonathan was open, (he) drove and made a wonderful play,” said Gillespie.
“We keep trying to demand that Jonathan play every possession as if it was the last.”
Which is exactly what Kelly did.
Contact Will Brown at email@example.com.