Rattlers found reprieve in recent stretch of non-conference basketball games at home

Coach Robert McCullum (left) and MJ Randolph talked about coming home to play at Lawson Center.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

 The outcome of last Tuesday night’s game aside, coach Robert McCullum was just glad to have his FAMU men’s basketball team playing at home. 

The matchup against Gulf Coast College was the third non-conference game in Lawson Center. It was the first time in three seasons that the Rattlers played as many games at home.

“Aside from who the opponent is,” McCullum said, “the fact that we can come home and play games in non-conference that’s a plus.”

The first two non-conference games that the Rattlers played gave them some reprieve from a schedule that has been grueling. They’ve all been against power-5 programs, with not much attention given to the outcome as much as the financial benefit of playing bigger programs.

Prior to coming home for two games, FAMU played at the University of Miami, University of Texas-El Paso, then they finished up with University of California-Riverside. McCullum called it “a pretty daunting trip.”

However, the players don’t seem bothered by the grind that took them coast to coast and will do so again before they move into their Southwestern Athletic Conference games.

“At the end of the day, basketball is basketball,” said senior guard MJ Randolph, who is averaging 18.5 points per game. “Whatever the opponent is, (we) go out there and fight (and) play hard.”

The remaining non-conference games will be a lot easier on the team, McCullum said, because the players would have completed the fall semester. But even when they have to play around class schedules, being on the road has its advantages, McCullum said, adding that it’s also an opportunity for the players to bond.

“It’s not each guy going back to his apartment and all of that,” he said. “When you’re on the road, you’ve got a lot less to worry about (and) you can lock in more.”

Tuesday night’s game against Gulf Coast ended a two-game stretch at home, which started with a 76-63 win over Fort Valley State. It was the Rattlers’ second victory over a Division II program and their second overall.

Coming in with a 1-6 record, Fort Valley wasn’t expected to give the Rattlers much of a challenge. They mounted a futile second-half rally, though.

A three-pointer by Dimingus Stevens put FAMU up 20-14 midway through the first half. That started a run that was punctuated by a Randolph steal that he took all the way to the net. 

At the end of the 22-12 run over the last 10 minutes of the half, the Rattlers went into intermission on top 39-24.

FAMU’s man press defense was a bit much for the Wildcats, forcing at least two shot-clock violations or bad shot selections. But late in the second half, Fort Valley was able to find openings from long range.

That didn’t change the Rattlers’ defensive posture and it’s unlikely to change for any opponent.

“We are a man-to-man team,” McCullum said. “That’s where we hang our hat. No matter how good a team is, we’re going to line up and play man to man. That’s what we do best.”

Following Tuesday’s game, the Rattlers have six more matchups remaining against power-5 teams. Two of those will be in California.

When the stretch of games is over, the Rattlers will start conference play Jan. 3 against Bethune-Cookman in Daytona. Three days later, they return to Lawson Center to play Southern in the first of two conference games at home. The other is against Grambling on Jan. 10.

Their focus right now, though, is on the immediate game. While getting a win might be tough, Randolph said he and his teammates have benefitted from life on the road.

“It’s exciting every time we go out there and play,” he said. “And, off the court, just to see different places, different things. I enjoy seeing different things and just having the opportunity to play basketball on this level.”