This weekend the FAMU men’s basketball team is heading north to Baltimore, taking on Coppin State in a battle of champions, Saturday at 4 p.m.
Coppin, along with South Carolina State, is the defending MEAC regular season champion and FAMU is the MEAC tournament champion. Coppin State will be looking for a little payback after losing to FAMU in the championship game of the MEAC tournament last season 58-51, despite beating the Rattlers twice during regular season play.
The team feels like the game has somewhat of a playoff feel to it, not only because of last season but because Coppin State is currently 3-1 in the conference which is tied for second place with Bethune-Cookman.
“The games between Coppin and us are always competitive,” said assistant head coach Mike Gillespie Jr. “Since 2002 all of the games have been close.”
Gillespie and assistant coach Chrys Cornelius feel in order for FAMU to be successful they must shoot exceptionally well. In three games against the Eagles last season the Rattlers made 35 percent of their shots from the field and shot 30 percent from 3-point range.
“They (Coppin State) play a lot of zone and try to make people beat them from the outside, which has not been one of our strengths this season,” Gillespie said.
Offensively, Tony Tate, Darius Glover and O.J. Sumter will be key in Saturday’s game. Tate will be heavily relied on for FAMU’s perimeter offense, not just his own offensive output, but getting and keeping his teammates involved. Sumter and Glover will be expected to carry the bulk of the load inside and open up the perimeter for Tate.
“Its important for the starters to play defense and rebound, because everyone will feed off of us,” said Sumter, a 6-foot-7 senior forward from Brooklyn, N.Y.
With the Rattlers averaging more than 18 turnovers per game, Tate, along with the guard James Pattman, will have to take care of the ball if they hope to be victorious.
The Eagles are a defensive minded team that likes to keep each game low scoring, giving up an average of 62 in five conference games. FAMU, on the other hand, is more of a running team, which causes more of tendency to turn the ball over.
“They slow the game down so much,” Gillespie said. “Every possession is so important.”
Defense will be key, as Jonathan Kelly and a few others will have the responsibility of guarding Coppin State’s best player, 6-foot-7 wingman Nicholas King. King is the tenth leading scorer in the MEAC, averaging 13 points per game.
FAMU’s coaching staff has a lot of respect for Coppin State and its head coach, Ronald ‘Fang’ Mitchell, which is why the staff has been working to keep the team focused and not over confident after the Rattlers blowout victory over the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore.
“Ronald Mitchell is one of the best Xs and Os coaches in the game,” Gillespie said. “They are a championship-caliber team and hopefully we can sneak out of there with a win.”
On Monday, the team will continue on their Baltimore road trip as they play Morgan State University. It’s a game the Rattlers will have to wear their hard hats and go to work on the boards.
The coaching staff feels everyone will have to be on the same page defensively. They will have to limit Morgan to one-shot possessions and get a body on someone; especially Morgan’s 6-foot-5-inch senior forward/center Aaron Andrews.
Andrews is second in the MEAC in rebounding with 7.3 per game. And is a ‘beast on the boards,’ Cornelius said.
“Our bench has to step up like it did at Norfolk,” he added. “Everyone knows we’re the champs and everyone knows what’s at stake, so everyone gives us their best shot, and we’re up to the challenge,” said Cornelius.
Contact Arize Ifejika at firstname.lastname@example.org.