Rattlers look to MEAC play after big wins
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
The FAMU men’s basketball team couldn’t respond to North Carolina Central’s late run and suffered a loss to begin the MEAC portion of its schedule.
They will have plenty of other opportunities to get that defining conference win. They’ll have to fight for it, though.
Coach Robert McCullum suspects it will take all that the Rattlers have and more for his team to handle the expected competition.
Credit the added pressure on the Rattlers to what they did to close the non-conference portion of their schedule. FAMU scored back-to-back upset wins over Seattle University and Iowa State University by respective scores of 71-57 and 70-68.
FAMU had not won a game until it beat the Red Hawks. However, they managed to make Iowa State their first win in 72 previous tries against Power Five Conference teams.
In the Iowa State win, which came on New Year’s Eve, FAMU made 19 of its 33 second-half shots. The three-point play by Rod Melton with 10 seconds left was the biggest.
It was so big that what the Rattlers accomplished resonated nationwide and made ESPN’s Sports Center lineup.
“You can’t buy that kind of advertisement,” McCullum said, pointing to the benefits beyond athletics.
He called the wins that sent the Rattlers into conference play with a 2-9 record gratifying to the point that he is excited for his players. Especially for winning the Iowa State game as 25-point underdogs.
“When you win and you least expect it, it just does wonders for your confidence,” McCullum said. “It’s an attention getter and it helps to reinforce all those points we’re trying to get across to our team about playing harder, playing together and trusting each other.”
Throughout the run against bigger basketball programs, McCullum said his players didn’t go into any of those games with an “opponent mentality.”
“I think it’s a process,” he said. “Year in and year out, we know we have to play x-number of those games. Sometimes they can be pretty daunting.”
Then, there is a huge takeaway.
“Each time we play them,” McCullum said, “we gain experience and we play with more confidence.”
That was obvious against the Eagles in Durham, N.C., but FAMU dug a hole for itself when the Rattlers couldn’t get a basket in the final 8 minutes and 37 seconds.
Melton again was the leading scorers against the Eagles. He finished with 18 points, scoring 13 of them in the first half. MJ Randolph was the second highest scorer for FAMU with 10 points.
Overall, Melton’s 11.9 points per game average is leading the team, followed by Randolph’s 11.4 points per game.
Since pulling off the two non-conference wins, the Rattlers have had to answer the question about how they stock up in the MEAC. Are they the best in the league, despite the loss to the Eagles?
“Not at all,” said Randolph. “We are not looking at it as we’re the best in the MEAC. We have to come out every day and work, work. We have to keep our heads on and not let any outside things get our head boosted up.”
They faced North Carolina A&T last Monday night. Their attitude going into that game was the same as it has been during the stretch of playing money games.
“We just take it one play at a time and one game at a time,” Melton said. “We put our runs and stops together and hopefully we’ll come out on top.”