TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (NSUSpartans.com) - Norfolk State could not overcome a slow first half, and Florida A&M ended a 17-game losing streak to the Spartans men's basketball team in a 66-63 win on Saturday afternoon at the Al Lawson Center.
NSU fell behind by 18 at the half but got as close as five late in the game with still enough time to rally. But 31 personal fouls on the Spartans and an off night at the 3-point line was ultimately too much to keep them in first place.
Norfolk State fell to 9-3 in the MEAC, tied with North Carolina Central for a half game back of North Carolina A&T (10-3). NSU dropped to a game below .500 overall at 13-14.
FAMU improved to 12-14 overall, 9-5 in the MEAC. The Rattlers had lost 17 straight to NSU dating back to the 2006-07 season. Their last win in the series came on Jan. 6, 2007 by an 81-71 margin, also at home.
For the Spartans, senior Jermaine Bishop, junior Devante Carter and sophomore Joe Bryant Jr. each scored 15 points.
Like NSU, the Rattlers had to overcome their own demon, theirs coming at the free throw line. Despite finishing with 42 attempts at the charity stripe, they made just half of them (21). But they shot 44 percent from the field, including 7-of-15 from deep.
NSU shot 52 percent in the second half, although they began the final 20 minutes down 37-19.
Down 18 after trading baskets to start the half, the Spartans held Florida A&M scoreless for three and a half minutes. Still, they trailed by double digits with 17 minutes on the clock. Later, Carter's 3-point play and a 3-pointer from freshman Tyrese Jenkins cut FAMU's deficit to nine, 43-34.
But the Rattlers went back up by double digits, and for a while NSU only got as close as eight after a 3-pointer from Bryant and a layup from senior Steven Whitley. The latter made it 53-45 with five minutes to go in the game.
The Spartans still trailed by 10 a few minutes later, but buckets from Bryant and Carter cut the deficit to six with a minute and a half left. Two free throws from Whitley with 43 seconds to go made it a five-point ballgame.
MJ Randolph made 3-of-4 from the free throw line, and NSU missed a couple of chances from deep. They finally did connect with time running down, but it was too little too late.
Randolph hit 8-of-12 from the free throw line and totaled 10 points, six assists, four rebounds, and four steals for FAMU. Bryce Moragne led all players with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting while grabbing seven rebounds.
Rod Melton shot 6-of-11 and had three of the team's seven 3-pointers for 15 points, and Nasir Core contributed 10 points and eight boards. The Rattlers played just seven players the whole game.
In the first half, FAMU made 48 percent from the floor, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range. They held the Spartans to 31 percent shooting in the opening period.
NSU led just once in the game, at 2-1 three minutes in. But the Spartans were within three at 11-8 after a bucket from Carter at the 12:41 mark. An 8-1 run gave the Rattlers their first double-digit lead, and they were up by 13 with five minutes left in the half on a 3-pointer from Melton.
Two field goals from Bryant made it 27-19 with a little more than four minutes left, but FAMU scored the last 10 points of the half for that 18-point edge. NSU shot just 2-of-11 from deep and 1-of-7 from the free throw line in those first 20 minutes.
Jenkins got the start and added nine points and six rebounds. Six different Spartans had at least four fouls, including Jenkins who fouled out.
The Spartans will look to regroup Monday at Bethune-Cookman at 7:30 p.m. to close out the trip.