Originally created 03/16/04

Rattlers resilient



DAYTON, Ohio - A 1-10 start is a bad sign for teams hoping to play in the NCAA Tournament. But even a losing record wasn't enough to keep Florida A&M out of this postseason.

The Rattlers overcame early season struggles and are a win away from the main bracket and a chance to play top-seeded Kentucky.

At 14-16, Florida A&M is the only team in the tourney with a losing record, but some of those losses came against powers Florida, North Carolina State and Marquette.

"Our record is misleading because we play the best teams we can find early," Florida A&M coach Mike Gillespie said. "It doesn't matter. We know where we have to be, who we play, and we know what we have to do to be successful. Not everyone gets this opportunity."

Florida A&M faces Lehigh (20-10) in today's play-in game to determine the 16th-seeded team in the St. Louis Regional. The winner will play Kentucky on Friday in Columbus.

Florida A&M reached the tournament by beating Coppin State 58-51 Saturday to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship. The Rattlers last appeared in the NCAA tournament in 1999.

"We're not like Duke or Connecticut, where making the NCAA tournament is expected every year," Gillespie said. "For us, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Lehigh hasn't played in the NCAA Tournament for 16 years.

The Bethlehem, Pa., school defeated American 59-57 Sunday to win the Patriot League.

Freshman guard Jose Olivero hit a leaning jumper with 3.9 seconds remaining to seal the win.

"I'm just so proud of these guys and what they were able to accomplish," Lehigh coach Billy Taylor said. "This team didn't get much credit at any point during the year. People have looked past us, wrote us off, said we weren't good enough, weren't tough enough. But this team stayed together."

Taylor said Florida A&M brings strong guard play and outside shooting, led by Terrence Woods, a transfer from Tennessee who averages 21 points per game. He made 129 3-point shots this season, most in the nation.

Woods bruised his thigh bruise during Saturday's game against Coppin State while running through a screen. He is questionable for today's game, Gillespie said.

Woods was limping Sunday, but has been getting plenty of treatment.

Woods plans on playing.

"No way I'm missing this game," he said. "The only way I'm not playing is if I'm in a body cast. I've just been doing as much rehab as I can so I'll be ready to go."