NORFOLK, VA (Mar. 8) – The Florida A&M Rattlers fought from down by 10 points in the first half to a tie at the end of regulation, before losing 82-78 to the South Carolina State University in the opening round of the 2017 MEAC Basketball Championships at the Scope Arena in Norfolk, Va.
Desmond Williams, put on one of his most impressive displays to date, scoring 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Marcus Barham scored 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field, while Justin Ravenel scored 12 points on efficient 4-of-7 shooting from the field. Two of Ravenel’s baskets were three-pointers, while Barham chipped in one.
One defining factor in the game was three-point shooting. SCSU guard Edward Stephens lit up the board, with six three-pointers in 11 tries, ending with a game high 24 points. Greg Mortimer went 4-of-5 from three-point range, ending his day with 20 points. As a team, the Bulldogs shot .500 from the arc (13-of-26), closing the gap whenever the Rattlers would take a lead or keeping just out of reach of FAMU.
Head coach Byron Samuels was the first FAMU men’s basketball coach to return the Rattlers to the MEAC tournament since Clemon Johnson led the Rattlers in the 2013-14 campaign, due to NCAA stipulations. With that fully behind the team, it was not the experience the team had envisioned. Still, they were honored with the opportunity to participate in what college basketball players dream about…the chance to “dance” in the annual NCAA basketball tournament.
“Our game plan was to protect the paint. We did that. But, when they kicked out, they got into a rhythm shooting the basketball early and that rhythm didn’t stop,” Samuels said.
Being back in the mix with a shot at the championship was not lost on the players. “We’ve been talking about the little things all year. We’’ve been losing by this margin all year. That’s the kind of things we’ve got to clean up this off-season. I went to JuCo for two years and I’ve been waiting to get here (MEAC Tournament) and get to this moment. I am glad that I got here and had this experience with this team,” junior Derrick Dandridge said.
Williams echoed those sentiments. When asked if he took pride in leading the team in points, Williams said, “I really don't know how to answer that question. I would rather have two points and a win than 23 points and a loss; so to me its pointless. It obviously wasn’t enough. It’s an honor and a great experience to be in the MEAC Tournament and being able to compete for a championship. This is my first time being here and I enjoyed the experience. I wish it would have ended better.”
This concludes the 2016-17 campaign for the Rattlers, but as Samuels explains, this team has an opportunity in front of it. “I like my group. The majority of the second half, I’m playing two freshmen, two sophomores and one junior. Sometimes it was two juniors, a sophomore and two freshmen and those guys battled. I felt we were going to win tonight. We were right there in position. They made 13 threes tonight, at their place they only made three. They shot the ball extremely well tonight,” Samuels concluded.