It took junior guard Joe Ballard nearly an entire half to get his team going, but an impressive second-half effort helped propel the Rattlers to an 85-72 win over the South Carolina State Bulldogs Monday night at Gaither Gymnasium.
Ballard scored 19 points to go along with 9 assists and just two turnovers. Coach Eugene Harris was impressed with Ballard’s effort.
“He was huge for us,” Harris said of Ballard’s performance. “He helped what we did in the second half.”
Ballard netted 13 of his 19 points in the second half, including two straight three-point buckets, to give the Rattlers a comfortable lead early in the first period.
The Rattlers struggled through a nip and tuck first half. The lead changed nine times, and the Rattlers and Bulldogs tied six times. The Bulldogs jumped out to the half’s biggest lead with 59 seconds left on a layup by Bulldog guard Jason Flegler.
That was as close as the Bulldogs would get after the Rattlers opened the second half with a 7-0 run.
Harris said the second-half push came because of a renewed effort on both ends of the floor.
“Our intensity to start the half was way up,” Harris said. “We ran the floor a whole lot better and really got after it.”
Junior forward Lamar Twitty played a major role in the Rattlers’ second-half resurgence. Twitty, one of the team’s most consistent scorers, scored 18 points and 9 rebounds and had a team high 2 steals. Twitty did damage despite playing with a sprained thumb.
“I have been playing with it for a while,” Twitty said, “but when it’s game time I go out there and play through it.”
The second half also saw the Rattlers improve their interior defense. The Rattlers allowed the Bulldog front line to bully their way to 20 points in the paint. The Bulldogs exploited a lazed Rattler defense that gave them open lanes to score.
“We weren’t getting back to our spots and they took advantage,” Harris said.
The Rattlers tightened up defensively and managed to rev up their offense. L.C. Robinson was one of many Rattlers struggling in the first half to score. He went 2 for 9 in the first half, including 1 for 7 from behind the arc.
“The shots weren’t really falling for any of us early, but they started falling,” Twitty said.
Robinson heated down the stretch hitting 4 of 10 from behind the arc on his way to 14 points. Harris said he encouraged Robinson to keep it up.
“I told him to keep shooting,” Harris said of his sharp shooting guard. “That’s the thing with a shooter; you have to encourage them to keep getting shots up and eventually they will fall.”
Robinson and senior guards E.J. Maul and Byron Taylor proved to be a formidable trio. They anchored the Rattler offense that committed just 8 turnovers the entire game.
Senior forward Akini Akini battled valiantly down low with Flagler. Akini scored a double-double with 18 points and 11 points.
The victory capped a four-game winning streak for the Rattlers.
“We have to enjoy this victory but make sure we don’t get big headed before we go the (MEAC) tournament,” Ballard said. “But if we can shoot the ball like this and play defense we can beat anybody.”