Rome Sanders has been waiting for this moment for four years. For four years, the senior center wished that he could play on college basketball’s biggest stage.
Well after the Florida A&M University Rattlers victory in the MEAC tournament final, Sanders and the rest of the team will finally realize this dream.
“I’ve been waiting since I’ve been in college for this. The chance to play in the tournament has been getting away from me, but now I finally get to play and at this stage in my career, it’s a big deal,” Sanders said.
“I been waiting since I been in college for this. The chance to play in the tournament has been getting away from me. But now I finally get to play and at this stage in my career it’s a big deal,” Sanders said.
The Rattlers secured their NCAA tournament bid after defeating conference foe Delaware State on Saturday night.
With Brian Greene’s last second buzzer beater, the Rattlers brought home a 58-56 victory.
The Rattlers shot 53 percent from the field and Greene opened the game with 12 points.
The thrilling victory over the Hornets gave the Rattlers their first ticket to the NCAA tournament since 2004. The Rattlers entered the MEAC tournament with a renewed sense of unity after failing to play the team orientated basketball that has given them the edge for most of the year.
“Before we even took the trip, we had a team meeting and we said we had to get back to playing team basketball,” senior forward Darius Glover said.
“We had gotten away from that a few games before the team tournament so we knew we had to play together,” Glover said.
FAMU entered the tournament with the doubt of some people outside the locker room echoing in their minds.
“We had a goal at the beginning of the season that we will take home the MEAC crown and we had a whole lot of doubters. But even then, we knew that we were the best team in the conference,” Sanders said.
The Rattlers beat the Hampton University Pirates in the first round 61-58. In the semifinals, FAMU knocked off North Carolina A&T 74-66.
Even after playing their way to the final round, the team said it still saw the same question marks floating around the RBC Center.
“Nobody but us thought we can win that game,” junior guard L.C. Robinson said of the critics who predicted the Hornets would make easy work of the Rattlers.
“We knew we could beat them already because we did it this year. Still, people didn’t think we had the chance,” Robinson said.
Apparently the Hornets were feeding off of their status as the favorite to win the tournament. DSU entered the conference tournament as the top seed.
“Our assistant coach went to a meeting about the championship game information with the staff from Delaware State,” Glover said.
“They were there talking about whether or not the championship T-shirt was going to be big enough for his guys. That was all the motivation we needed right there,” Glover said.
Glover said vindication came soon after the game when he and his teammates celebrated in their T-shirts that the Hornets staff had been sizing up.
“I told coach before the game I wanted the smallest size shirt they had and that’s exactly what I got,” Glover said.
The team reflected on its season after they punched a ticket to the Big Dance.
“Coach Gillespie made sure we realize that all the hard work we did pay off,” Sanders said.
“Being up at five in the morning for practice. Running on the track in early October. It was all worth it.”
Robinson, who played his first year of FAMU basketball this year, silenced critics who said he would never step foot on the floor of a NCAA tournament gym after his move to the Hill.
“Many people kept telling me I was never going to win at FAMU and I was never going to play in the tournament. I got a lot of criticism for coming here but now that we’re going it feels really good,” Robinson said.
Glover said the team’s confidence never waivered.
“Coach didn’t really need to motivate us because that fire is always burning inside of us.”
Sanders said the team is prepared to play Cinderella in the upcoming tournament.
“We played some big name schools this year and we showed that we can compete and that’s all I can ask for my last year. And if we can compete then — we can beat anybody in the country. Everyone in our huddle believes that,” Sanders said.
The Rattlers will enter the NCAA tournament taking on the Niagara Purple Eagles in Dayton, Ohio.
The play-in game is slated for Tuesday and the time was not available before press time. The winner of the matchup will advance to play the Kansas Jayhawks in Chicago on Friday.
FAMU and Delaware State split the regular season series. The Rattlers beat the Hornets at home in January 83-68. Delaware State evened the series with a 77-65 victory in February.