"Like Coach says, any day anybody can lead us in scoring," Ervin said. "I'm the starting point guard and I have to take the role of getting guys easier shots."
The sophomore played his role exceedingly well, and while #21-ranked State (10-2) was winning the game Ervin was winning his coach's approval. "When Gary looks to pass like that, we become a much better team," Rick Stansbury said. "I thought he was a point guard for the first time in his career."
Ervin came into Monday's game with 53 assists already, including ten against Missouri-Kansas City. But this night he not only got the ball to teammates in scoring positions, but he did so with the sort of efficiency and consistency Stansbury and team alike had waited all season for. And he wasn't worried at scoring just three points.
"He did a good job distributing the ball to everybody," said forward Lawrence Roberts, who topped State's scoring list with 25 points in 27 minutes. "Gary created some easy shots and did a good job keeping the defense guessing."
Bulldogs on the answer-end of many of Ervin's passes included Frazier with 24 points, forward Shane Power with 18 (tying his season-best), and forward Ontario Harper with 10 more off the bench. The Rattlers (2-6) were led by guard Tony Tate with 17 points, and three others in double-figures.
Scouting FAMU, the Bulldogs noticed a tendency to be slow in transition defense. That played right into their preferred gameplan of up-tempo offense, and State likely would have run the Rattlers down over forty minutes anyway. But this night saw a different Ervin pushing the ball end-to-end. Instead of going into traffic and getting airborne, he kept control of body and ball alike long enough to find a teammate in shooting position.
"Tonight every time he penetrated his feet were on the floor," noted Stansbury. The results were obvious and instant. "I got three quick assists and it started to be that type of night," Ervin said.
And if the coach had not finished Ervin's night early, after 29 minutes on court, the record of 16 (set by Chuckie Evans in 1993) would have fallen. "He was like I need two more, I want to stay in the game," Frazier said. "It's a good thing, somebody trying to get a record. I'm real proud of him."
The Rattlers helped State out early by taking the ball right to the goal after a single pass the first three trips. Each produced a miss, rebound, and Bulldog fastbreak for Ervin's first three scoring plays. Minutes later the point guard outran every defender but one, and the last man fouled him for a three-point play and 14-7 lead.
But whenever the pace slowed the Bulldogs had trouble finding easy shots and making the harder ones. FAMU caught back up as O.J. Sumter slipped open for a layup and foul. But he missed the free-throw try to tie, and at the other end Wesley Morgan scored inside the zone for one basket and tipped in a Dietric Slater miss for another and 21-14 score.
Free throws by Roberts pushed the lead into double-digits for the first time, 29-19 at 6:17. A&M still would not let the home team run away, beating the Dog defense with sharp passing for easy baskets and hanging within striking distance at 37-30 with 2:49 left to intermission. But when the Rattlers started missing again, State was ready. Harper picked up a loose-ball layup, then with the FAMU zone dropped back a step out top Power and Frazier combined for three longballs to blow things open. Frazier tipped in his own missed layup as the Bulldogs took a 52-36 lead into the locker room.
The second half produced similar scoring but in slightly different ways as State became a bit more patient and worked inside/out. Roberts did the damage in the lane, while Frazier and Power kept lighting up the FAMU zone. "The second half we shared the ball," Stansbury said. "Lawrence gets his 25 and Shane and Winsome got their points."
So did the rest of the lineup, starters and backups alike, as the lead grew to 25 on a Power trey at 12:48, and to 30 at 89-59 as Jamall Edmondson converted free throws off a Frazier theft. State's longest lead was 31 points at 7:02 on Slater free tosses, as the Bulldogs went 29-of-33 at the stripe. It was a hanging bankshot by Michael Boler at 1:23 that broke 100 points for the first time since last March, against Auburn. The Bulldogs also crushed the Rattlers on the glass, 45 rebounds to 24, and with nine boards Roberts just missed another double-double.
"Florida A&M never quit fighting," said Stansbury. "But I was pleased considering the quick turnaround (after Saturday's game at Xavier). We came out and played with some intensity early."
Stansbury waited until the score was well into the 90s before using reserves. Piotr Stelmach took over for Roberts at six minutes and moments later Walter Sharpe subbed in at center. It was the freshman's first activity after missing five games, at least a couple of those for disciplinary reasons. A total of 14 players got into the game, and only frosh forward Charles Rhodes did not participate. "We got Walter some minutes," the coach said. "We'll approach minutes with those guys as they continue to grow as people."
The Bulldogs won't have another true home game until January. But they do play at their home-away-from-home Wednesday night as Mississippi State takes on Jacksonville State in the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Gametime is 7:00, and the Dogs will be in Jackson for a Tuesday afternoon workout. The shootaround portion, from 5:30 to 6:00, is open to the public.
"We've got a great fan base," Stansbury said, "not just in Jackson, it's the center of the state which means we can pull from a lot of areas. It's a chance for a lot of people to reach out and touch the program, this will be their only opportunity to see us play. We played their two years ago with a sellout crowd. The timing is not as good being close to Christmas, but I think it's good for the program."