Florida A&M 58, Delaware State 56
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—As Florida A&M drew up its final play during a timeout, Brian Greene offered a suggestion: Lob the ball high, and he’ll take care of the rest.
He did, and now the Rattlers are back in the NCAA tournament.
Greene’s buzzer-beating alley-oop layup lifted Florida A&M to a 58-56 victory over Delaware State in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship game Saturday.
“Our whole team, we were fighting—vocally, physically and mentally,” Greene said. “We stuck together throughout this whole tournament, and when you’ve got (your teammates) behind you, you don’t want to let them down. I made sure that I was going to put that ball in that bucket.”
Lamar Twitty inbounded the ball from near the Rattlers’ bench with 1.1 seconds left, lobbing it toward the rim. Greene came off a screen, caught the pass and in one motion rattled home the game-winner that sent second-seeded Florida A&M (21-13) into the field of 65 for the first time since 2004.
“Brian Greene, in the timeout, said ‘If you get the ball up there, I’ll make the basket,”’ coach Mike Gillespie said.
Greene finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Rattlers, who earned their fourth NCAA tournament berth. With an RPI ranking in the 180s, they figure to be a No. 15 or No. 16 seed when the bracket is announced Sunday. The Rattlers already have played—and lost to—Florida, Pittsburgh, Maryland and Illinois.
“I really don’t care where we go or who we play,” Gillespie said. “I know one thing—our guys will have absolutely no fear of that team.”
Florida A&M trailed by six points midway through the second half before closing the game strong. The Rattlers outscored Delaware State 14-2 during a 6 1/2 -minute span, taking a 50-44 lead on Greene’s steal and layup with 7 minutes left. The Hornets scrapped back and tied it 56-56 on Roy Bright’s putback with 32.6 seconds left.
But Delaware State coach Greg Jackson blamed himself for failing to properly defend the final play by placing a defender on Twitty instead of in the lane to stop the lob.
“We made a coaching mistake—we should have never had a guy on the ball,” Jackson said. “We should have had somebody off the ball.”
Bright finished with 23 points, and Elyon Bush added 10 for Delaware State (21-12), which lost in the MEAC title game as its top seed for the second straight year and was denied its second trip to the NCAA tournament since 2005.
Delaware State entered the league tournament on a roll, having claimed its third consecutive regular-season title in dominating fashion. The Hornets finished with a commanding four-game lead over second-place Florida A&M, but all that regular-season title is worth now is a guaranteed spot in the NIT.
Going to the NCAA tournament “was our goal from day one, but we came up short,” Jackson said. “We’ve just got to get ready for another season as far as the NIT.”
The Hornets’ two-time MEAC player of the year, Jahsha Bluntt, was held to eight points on 3-of-13 shooting.
“Shots weren’t falling for me—not even open looks, not even free throws,” Bluntt said. “I couldn’t catch a rhythm at all.”
During the game’s opening moments it seemed like it was the Rattlers who would cruise to an easy win, scoring seemingly at will on putbacks and layups against the MEAC’s stingiest defense. Green scored the Rattlers’ first 12 points as part of a 14-5 run to begin the game, with Rome Sanders capping the spurt with a fast-break dunk.
Delaware State regrouped, calmed down at both ends of the floor and responded with a 20-5 run. Bright had nine points during the run, and his layup with about six minutes left gave the Hornets their first lead, 18-17. They led 28-27 at the break.
Joe Ballard added 12 points and Darius Glover added 11 for Florida A&M, which reached the MEAC championship game for the first time since winning it three years ago. That year, the Rattlers beat Lehigh in the NCAA tournament’s opening-round game before losing as a 16-seed to top-seeded Kentucky.
“They believe that whoever we play, we’re going to win the game,” Gillespie said. “Our guys had absolutely no fear of (Kentucky). So we’re not going to fear anybody. We’re not smart enough to fear anybody.”