Apparently Mike Gillespie believes that funneling his offense through the post will generate some success for his team.After a 73-69 victory over the Delaware State University Hornets(12-7, 7-1), it appears the sixth-year head coach might be right.
The Rattlers patiently played within the coach’s “inside-out” game plan on Saturday night .The result was another home victory and a step ahead in the race to the top of the MEAC.”This is probably the best we have played collectively as a team both offensively and defensively,” said junior forward Brian Greene.
Greene, who is averaging a team high of seven rebounds this season, posted 17 points against the Hornets, one of which included an open-court dunk that gave the Rattlers a 64-60 lead with a little more than five minutes to go in the second half.
Greene wasn’t the only Rattler to take advantage of Delaware State’s thin front court. In his first start this season, junior Akini Atkins scored eight points in just 13 minutes of playing time. Atkins’ activity on both ends of the floor infused the Rattlers’ starting lineup with a much-needed spark.
“It was a decision coach made,” Greene said of his teammates’ first start. “Considering his aggressiveness on the ball, we felt he would be able to get a spark going.”
“Any of the nine guys who we play a lot can start for any team in the MEAC,” Greene continued. “So it really doesn’t matter who starts for us night in and night out.”
Atkins said the chance to crack the starting rotation has given him confidence.
“I have been struggling, really since I left high school,” Atkins said. “I don’t really have as much experience at the collegiate level. But now I think I can just go out there and be Akini, be aggressive like I used to be.”
Center Rome Sanders played his usual big role in the team’s success as he scored 18 points to go along with a team high of five rebounds. All season long Sander’s teammates have looked to the 6-foot-8 center to come up big down the stretch, and Saturday was no different.
“We don’t have a choice,” Greene said of the team’s responsibility to feed the big man down low. “He has come up big for us all year. So we have to look to Big Rome.”
Gillespie said the Rattlers knew they had an advantage underneath the basket, and weren’t going to waste it.”We are very talented inside,” Gillespie said. “With Rome, and Darius and Brian – those are three guys that can really put the ball in the basket. I thought that was the difference in the game.”
In addition to scoring 30 points in the paint, the team out rebounded Delaware State 27-26. The Rattlers also caught fire from downtown early, hitting all six of their three-point attempts in the first half. Greene said that is just a product of Gillespie’s game plan.
“The threes we hit came because we played inside out like coach wants us to,” Greene said. “We know if we put it inside and kick it out, nine time out of 10, with the shooters that we have, we will be able to knock those shots down.”
The Hornets kept things close after coming back from an early 12-point deficit, thanks to the hot hand of MEAC Player of the Year Jahsha Bluntt’s 28 points.
Despite Bluntt’s scoring outburst, the Rattler defense was able to contain the guard down the stretch.
“Coach made the decision for us to play man-to-man on him,” Greene said. “We knew he wasn’t that good off the dribble, so we manned up and got some stops.”
Greene, who guarded Bluntt for much of the second half, had help from the rest of the Rattlers frontcourt that had the task of containing Bluntt.
Senior Darius Glover helped anchor the Rattlers’ post defense with two blocks and a steal to go along with 7 points – all of which came in the low post.
“This win is special because we beat a very good team,” Gillespie said. “The game was played the right way, but we just had a little bit more firepower around the basket,” he said of his formidable low post attack.
With the victory, the Rattlers still remain one Hornet loss away from being the top team in the conference.
Sanders said the win over the conferences best team was a confidence booster for the team.
“On paper we are the best team in the conference,” Sanders said. “And lately we have been doing a good job of showing it.”