The Lady Rattlers basketball team had much to overcome at the beginning of the season given the sudden death of team-member Shannon Washington.
But the task appeared to be small, at least on the court, as it pieced together a dominant season with Mid-Eastern Conference championship implications.
It was only fitting that it concluded Thursday’s regular season finale against Morgan State on a similar note.
Jasmine Grice scored a game-high 20 points, Tameka McKelton supported with 16, and the Lady Rattlers basketball team steamrolled the Lady Bears 88-57 in the Al Lawson Center.
Florida A&M’s victory ended its six-game losing skid to the Lady Bears (6-23, 3-13 MEAC). The Lady Rattlers (21-7, 14-2 MEAC) now claim the all-time series by a 32-9 margin.
The win also marked the first time the Lady Rattlers earned 21 wins during a single season in 16 years. The last time they reached that number was during the 1995-96 season (21-7).
“Losing a family member was very hard for us,” head coach LeDawn Gibson said after the game. “We decided as a family to dedicate the season to her. That helped transpire us over to the motivation to do what we needed to do.
“I’m very proud of these young ladies. They dedicated a lot of their time and sacrificed a lot of things to have a 21-winning season.”
Seniors Antonia Bennett and Qiana Donald, who participated in their final regular-season game, each earned double-doubles. Bennett scored 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Donald posted 15 points and 10 rebounds.
“I wasn’t trying to think about it, but everybody keeps saying it,” Bennett said. “It’s sad that we won’t be able to play here anymore. I’m looking forward to coming back and watching the other girls play and seeing the hard work they put in.”
Kimberly Sparkman tallied 10 points to round out FAMU’s double-digit scorers.
Both teams appeared evenly matched on offense early in the first half, but the similarity would be short-lived on the scoreboard. The Lady Rattlers pushed a 17-3 run to bring the score to 27-15 with 7:11 to go in the half.
A stretch of efficient offensive performances would carry the Lady Rattlers into the halftime period with a decisive 43-31 advantage.
The Lady Rattlers were outperformed from the field during the first half, as they shot 34.1 percent (15-of-44) from the field compared to the Lady Bears’ 36.1 percent (13-of-36). But FAMU compensated with 30.8 percent shooting (4-of-13) from beyond the arc to gain the commanding lead.
Grice, who was 2-of-6 from the field during the first half, exploded during the second to shoot for 50 percent (6-of-12). She said confidence was a factor in her offensive improvement.
“I just had to get confidence in myself,” Grice said. “Most of the time, I’m down on myself. So between listening to coach and using teamwork, it just came.”
FAMU never lost a step after halftime, as it charged on an imposing 12-4 run capped by a Grice jumper to bring the score to 55-34 with 13:31 left in the second half.
The Lady Rattlers would earn their largest lead of the evening with 5:30 remaining in regulation as Donald scored on a layup to give them a 78-47 lead. FAMU would hold on to its staggering lead during the final minutes to seal the victory.
FAMU concluded the game with 39 percent shooting from the field, 21.4 percent from beyond the arc and 81.8 percent from the free throw line.
The Lady Bears shot 39.1 percent from the field and 74.4 percent from the charity stripe on the game.
Keirah Hicks (17) and Amarah Williams (12) were Morgan State’s leading scorers.
With a week to prepare, the Ladies now turn their attention toward the MEAC basketball tournament, which begins Monday at the Joel Lawrence Coliseum in Winston Salem, N.C. The Lady Rattlers will enter at a No. 3 seed and will return to action Thursday.