Florida A&M University’s bench appeared juiced and energized early in Saturday’s game, shouting words of encouragement and showing plenty of emotion from the sidelines as Tony Tate scored off an early Delaware State turnover.
But that bench energy would only appear again during a second half push as Delaware State (17-11, 15-1) got the best of FAMU (12-16, 8-8) 61-58.
The best team in the MEAC was in town with an opportunity to clinch the regular season conference title for the second straight season with a win.
The Rattlers were on the hunt for an upset but fell just short amid missed free throws and numerous turnovers. FAMU shot 11-for-20 from the line and committed 21 turnovers.
“The saddest part is we had an opportunity to win and we missed that opportunity,” said head coach Mike Gillespie.
Down by as much as 14 points in the second half, Rattler guard Jon Mason helped spark a FAMU run with his deep threat from the perimeter. His 3-pointer with 4:47 left in the second half slimmed the score to a 57-50 DSU lead. Mason finished with 11 points behind three 3-pointers.
Brian Greene had the chance to cut the lead down to five at the free-throw line with 4:12 remaining, but he missed both attempts. Joe Ballard grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it out to Tate for a shot. He misfired, but Greene, who averaged 10 rebounds in the four previous games, came up with the rebound for a put-back, cutting the lead to 57-52.
Greene scored a team-high 13 points and pulled down six rebounds but shot only 3-for-9 from the stripe.
The close final score was nothing new to the Hornets, who have won seven of their 15 MEAC wins by four points or less.
The Rattlers held Delaware St. without a field goal in the last 6:30 of the game, but it was all a matter of too little-too late.
“We didn’t make plays (early in the game). Then all of a sudden, guys felt like competing,” Gillespie said. “When we compete, we’re a very good team.”
Much to Gillespie’s pleasure, DSU was held to 9-for-21 from behind the arc. But the constant lack of control of the ball continues to overshadow any bright spots for the Rattlers.
“Our goal was to make them shoot threes,” Gillespie said. “We did a decent job, but again, we turned the ball over 21 times. You can’t beat a team in a disciplined style of game like this if you turn the ball over 21 times.”
The guard combo of Ballard and Tate committed five turnovers each.
“I think we’re just trying to go too fast,” Ballard said. “We’re trying to make passes that aren’t there. We need to just slow down.”
Several of the Rattler turnovers were results of an extended and trapping Hornet defense.
“Every time I came off, they had a guy waiting for me,” Tate said. “You have to give them credit. But I think we just have to not nut up when it’s crunch time.”
After starting the game with nine first half points, Tate was held to two in the second.
Junior Hornet guard Jahsha Bluntt, a preseason All-MEAC first team selection, scored 14 points while sophomore guard Tracey Worley led the Hornets with 17 points.
The loss, their seventh of the last nine games, positions the Rattlers in seventh place in the MEAC, trailing South Carolina State by half a game. FAMU travels to Hampton Wednesday and will play its home finale in the Homecoming game March 4 against Bethune-Cookman.
Contact LeMont Calloway at email@example.com