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Rattlers going to Dance despite losing record

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Tony Tate made the Mid-Eastern Athletic
Conference tournament championship his best game at Florida A&M,
and gave a preview of what that Rattlers will bring to the NCAA
Tournament.

Tate scored a career-best 20 points and hit five of the
Rattlers' 10 3-pointers Saturday, lifting Florida A&M to a 58-51
victory against Coppin State and its first berth in the NCAA
Tournament since 1999.

This team, like that one, will arrive with a losing record. The
Rattlers were 12-18 after winning the MEAC in 1999, and are 14-16
now.

Their first stop, coach Mike Gillespie said, will be the play-in
game against another low-rated team for the last spot in the field
of 64.

"That's fine," the fast-talking coach said. "That'll give us
a chance to get another win and then go upset Kentucky or whoever
we play."

The fifth-seeded Rattlers, who stunned top-seeded South Carolina
State in the semifinals, will be making their third trip to the
NCAA Tournament.

For Tate, who averaged just 6.8 points, the day started fast. He
hit his first three shots, all from behind the arc, in the opening
4:07.

"When the third one went in, I was like, 'Oh, maybe it's my day
today,''' the sophomore said. He finished 5-for-6 on 3-pointers.

After some lean years for the Rattlers, the victory and
opportunity ahead left senior Demarcus Wilkins waiting for it all
to register.

"This is great," he said. "This is the best feeling in the
world right now, coming from the bottom to the top. I'm lost for
words right now."

Terrence Woods, who made two trips to the NCAA Tournament at
Tennessee before transferring, said ``there's no better feeling
than going back."

"I think we might be able to go slip an upset on somebody," he
said.

Coppin State (18-14), which blew a 15-point second-half lead in
the semifinals before beating Delaware State on a 3-pointer at the
buzzer, had only five field goals in the second half and missed 9
of 16 free throws.

The Eagles finished 10-for-22 from the line overall, numbers
that left coach Ron Mitchell disappointed and unable to mask a
told-you-so tone.

"In games of this magnitude, you have to make foul shots. If
you don't make fouls shots and shoot under 50 percent, you're on
your way home."

Florida A&M took the lead with a 13-1 run to start the second
half, getting a 3-pointer from Tate to start it, two more from
Terrence Woods and another from Wilkins as the Rattlers took a
41-33 lead.

"We made a couple of mistakes during the second half where
people just didn't get out and missed assignments and they made us
pay for it," Mitchell said. "That's what decent teams are
supposed to do."

The second-seeded Eagles used an 11-4 run to close to within
45-44 with 9:24 to play, but scored only one point in the next
seven minutes in losing to the Rattlers for the first time in three
meetings this season.

Tate's last 3-pointer, and fifth in six attempts, came with 5:46
to play, giving Florida A&M a 51-45 lead, and the Eagles never got
closer than four again. Coppin State missed six free throws in the
last 7:05.

"Sometimes fatigue will make quitters of us," Mitchell said.
"Sometimes the fact of knowing things but not knowing things will
make fools of us. We just didn't do what we had to do."

Woods added 13 points and Wilkins 10 for the Rattlers.

Nicholas King led Coppin State with 12 points and Jimmy Boykin
had 10. The Eagles finished 5-for-20 from the field in the second
half while the Rattlers had five 3-pointers in the half and shot
7-for-23 overall.

The Eagles led 32-28 after a first half in which both teams came
out shooting well, then hit the wall with about 10 minutes
remaining.

Tate hit three 3-pointers in the first 4:07 for the Rattlers,
whose first five field goals all came from behind the arc. After a
7-for-13 start, however, Florida A&M made just 2 of 9 the rest of
the first half.

The Eagles made 7 of their first 11 shots, then just 5 of 13 the
rest of the half. In one four-minute stretch, Coppin State missed
four straight shots and had four turnovers, but the Rattlers scored
just two points.