The Florida A&M University men’s basketball shot an impressive 84 percent from the free-throw line Saturday against South Carolina State University (8-13, 6-5). But a key miss late in the game gave the Bulldogs enough juice to squeeze out a 66-64 win over the Rattlers (11-13, 7-5).
Trailing 65-63 with eight seconds remaining in the game, Tony Tate missed the Rattlers’ only failed free throw attempt of the second half. But head coach Mike Gillespie said he liked his chances with the senior, who shoots 84 percent shooter from the stripe.
“You couldn’t ask for anybody better,” Gillespie said. “I shared with my guys after the game that that free throw didn’t win or lose the game. There were so many other plays during the course of this game that people forget about. Everybody focuses on that last free throw, and that’s bologna sausage.”
Gillespie did not place all the blame on the miss, he said, because the lackluster performance of Rome Sanders made up for a portion of it. The 6-foot-8 center led the team in scoring for the last three games, totaling 60 points, but he finished 1-for-2 from the field Saturday for two points.
“Do I feel Rome could have worked harder for the basketball? Yes,” Gillespie said. “But again, it was a combination of a lot of things.”
The Rattlers’ inconsistencies included committing 18 turnovers, shooting a shaky 37 percent from the field and dishing out only five assists.
“People who have complained about not being able to shoot the ball had the opportunity to shoot the ball tonight,” Gillespie said. “They didn’t put the ball in the basket. So consequently you have the opportunity to lose to a good ball club.”
The loss positions the Rattlers in a three-way tie for third in the MEAC with Bethune-Cookman and Norfolk State. SC State remains in the pack, landing in fourth.
Tate and Bulldog junior forward Brian Mason sit atop the list of leading scorers in the MEAC. At third, Tate averages 16.2 points a game while Mason averages 16.7, good enough for second. Tate finished with a Rattler-high 15 points along with four assists, but Mason was held to four points.
Last week’s MEAC Player of the Week Thurman Zimmerman scored 12 points for the Bulldogs while Derrick Davis scored a season-high 16 points with 5 assists.
“If the Coppin State game (Jan. 9) was a big home loss, this was the biggest home loss because we had the opportunity to put these guys away,” Tate said.
As a senior, Tate said he knows his time with the Rattlers is dwindling to a close and he wants to maximize what the team can do, even if it means putting the load on his back.
“If we’re going to lose the game, I want to lose the game. I take this real serious,” Tate said.
Rattler junior forward Brian Greene is steadily getting back to familiar form after making his third appearance since missing 14 games due to a left ankle injury. Before the injury, Greene averaged 10 points and six rebounds. After a slow start, he picked things up in the second half and finished with a near double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds.
“I just tried to be that spark tonight and make plays around the basket,” Greene said. “It just wasn’t enough for us to get this win. We can’t hold our heads down. We just have to get back at it tomorrow.”
The Ratters host the struggling North Carolina A&T Aggies (3-18, 3-8) tonight at 7:30 p.m.
Contact LeMont Calloway at firstname.lastname@example.org