The air is getting thin atop the MEAC standings in both the men’s and women’s basketball seasons. But fortunately for both teams, they have had enough oxygen to hold their own in the conference.
“So far so good,” Lady Rattler head coach Debra Clark said of the team’s 3-1 start in the MEAC. The Lady Rattlers (7-8, 3-1) started the season undefeated after winning three straight conference games before losing to the Hampton University Lady Pirates on Monday.
The loss dropped the Lady Rattlers to third in the league behind defending MEAC champs Coppin State University (8-6, 3-0) and North Carolina A&T University (8-6, 3-0). Despite dropping just one conference game, the Lady Rattlers have found themselves tied with three other teams in third place.
“One loss will hurt you in this league,” Clark said after the loss against Hampton at Gaither Gym. “We could have really created some space between ourselves and other teams in the league with a win. And when you don’t play well, it can be really discouraging.”
The Lady Rattlers looked like they might continue their streak in the conference after taking a four-point lead into the second half, but Hampton battled back to take home a victory and a 3-1 record in the conference that mirrored that of the Lady Rattlers.
The Hampton men’s team put a pin in the Rattlers’ hopes to leave the left side of their loss column blank in the conference. Hampton eked out a 76-74 win over the FAMU men’s team on Monday. The loss put the Rattlers in a similar situation to their lady counterparts as the men’s team slipped to second place in the MEAC, leaving them tangled in a three-way tie in the competitive league.
But unlike the women’s team, the men’s squad has maintained outside of their division and has managed to keep hold to a .500 record after facing ranked squads in Pittsburgh and the University of Florida. Playing tough competition outside the conference has helped the team garner the confidence needed to take wins over conference foes Bethune-Cookman College, Morgan State University and Norfolk State University.
Head coach Mike Gillespie said a big part of the team’s success can be found on the offensive side of the ball where production has been at its highest.
“I think our inside game has been great,” Gillespie said. “Rome Sanders, Brian Greene and Darius Glover have played very well. L.C. Robinson has been showing some leadership, and I think we have to continue to be able to get that.”
Sanders, the team’s center, has led the offensive attack. Sanders is averaging 15.4 points a game, which is recognized as good for fourth place in the MEAC.
“Most of our offensive production is going to come inside because coach wants the ball to go inside out,” Sanders said. “That also opens things up for our guards too. So I think we have been doing a pretty good job.”
With both teams looking to rebound after losses, both coaches are salivating over a four-game home stand that begins Saturday with South Carolina State University.
“We have to take advantage of being at home (Saturday),” Gillespie said.
After Monday’s home loss, Clark said the team needs to refocus.
“We don’t have time for a pity party,”Clark said. “We have a four-game home stretch.”
Following South Carolina State University, conference foe North Carolina A&T will roll into town Monday looking to put a damper on the team’s hopes to gain ground in the MEAC race.
Clark said the team cannot afford to take anyone in the conference lightly.
“This year there is a lot of parity in this league. Norfolk State beat Hampton, and we beat Norfolk State. The team that comes to play each and every night is the team that is going to be successful,” she said.
The Lady Rattlers will tip off against the South Carolina State Bulldogs at 2 p.m. Saturday, and the men’s game will tip off at 4 p.m.