FAMU proved their championship victory over Coppin State in last year’s MEAC Tournament was no fluke.
The Rattlers (10-13, 7-7 MEAC) edged out the Eagles (11-13, 11-4 MEAC) 62-58 Saturday afternoon to upset the number one team in the conference.
Head coach Mike Gillespie was pleased with the overall contributions of the Rattlers. . “We had one guy in double figures (scoring), but we got seven from Jon Mason here and points from O.J. (Sumter) there,” Gillespie said. “That’s the way the game is supposed to be played. This was great preparation because we’re going to play them again in the (MEAC) tournament.”
Rattler forward Jonathan Kelly hit a wide open 3-pointer in the opening moments of the game to give them an early 3-2 lead and he never looked back. Kelly, who’s averaging 8.5 points, scored seven of the Rattlers’ first eight points, which helped propel him to a team-high 17 points along with five rebounds.
“Jonathan is a guy who feeds off his ability to score,” Gillespie said. “When he can get off to a good start like he did, you know he’s going to have a pretty good ball game, which he did for us tonight.”
“We like getting the ball out on the breaks,” Kelly said. “That’s where I think I play my best, in transition.”
The Rattlers may thrive in the open court, but they were only able to score six fast break points. Instead, the Rattlers looked to share the ball in their half court offense and finished with 14 assists. FAMU guard Tony Tate led the Rattlers with seven assists to accompany eight points and six rebounds.
In the last 12 games in the series there have been four overtime games and only three games decided by more than five points. That trend continued Saturday but it didn’t have to.
The Rattlers ended the first half up 34-25. In the second half, however, FAMU committed 13 turnovers. Coppin State scored 22 points off those turnovers to slim the FAMU lead, but the Rattlers did hold the Eagles to 26 percent shooting for the half.
“When we executed, we scored,” Gillespie said. “But when we were careless with the ball and got a little passive, they were able to trap and make some (defensive) plays. If we don’t turn the basketball over 13 times in the second half, that game stays between a 10 to 15 point ball game all the way through.”
Coppin State took a 53-54 lead off a jumper by center Henry Colter with 3:05 left in the game. After Tate converted a free throw to tie the game, Kelly gave the Rattlers the lead for good with a two-hand dunk with 1:39 remaining.
“They are number one, so this was a very big win,” said Rattler forward Michael Harper. “It helps with our confidence and it was a big win to hold our home stand.”
All-MEAC candidate Nicholas King of Coppin State finished with 20 points to lead the Eagles. Darryl Procter, who is making a strong case for MEAC Rookie of the Year, scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
The Rattlers will play their final game in Gaither Gymnasium this season tonight at 7:30 p.m. against Morgan State.
Contact LeMont Calloway at firstname.lastname@example.org