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Monday, February 14, 2005
Losses averaged 23 points a game

Associated Press

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- The coach stood limply in front of the bench -- arms folded, a disbelieving look in his eyes.

One of his players sat dejectedly on the court -- staring at his feet, not wanting to look up at the all-too-familiar scoreboard.

All-time Division I Winless Teams*
Season Team Record
2004-05 Savannah St. 0-28
1991-92 Prairie View 0-28
1917-18 Dartmouth 0-26
1936-37 William & Mary 0-18
1954-55 The Citadel 0-17
1944-45 Baylor 0-17
*Minimum 10 games played

Savannah State seemed overwhelmed by the finality of it all.

Yep, the Tigers went 0-for-the-season. They finished 0-28 by losing to Florida A&M 49-44 on Monday night.

"It's unbelievable," senior Sherard Reddick said. "I don't believe it."

Savannah State became just the second NCAA Division I school in a half-century to go through an entire season without a win.

At least the Tigers didn't go down without a fight, managing their closest loss of the season. They tied it at 41 with 1:57 remaining when Donald Carson -- son of former New York Giants linebacker Harry Carson -- hit two free throws.

But Michael Harper put Florida A&M (9-13) ahead for good just 12 seconds later with two free throws. Mark Williams hit a long 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining to pull Savannah State to 45-44, but Tony Tate clinched it at the free throw line for the Rattlers. He made six straight in the final 24 seconds and led all scorers with 23 points.

Reddick scored 12 points to pace Savannah State, which kept it close despite shooting just 22.6 percent (14-of-62) from the field.

"It doesn't feel like we lost 28 games this season," Reddick said. "I guess God is testing us."

Savannah State also had a chance to lead at halftime for the first time all season. But Michael Ayodele hit a 3 with 8 seconds remaining in the period, putting Florida A&M ahead 28-26.

"Two points is real good," said Chris White, a 19-year-old student who was among the crowd of 1,357. "Usually by halftime, we're losing by 20 points. I actually might watch the rest of the game instead of just talking to my friends."

Indeed, the crowd was on its feet in the frantic final seconds. But in the end, it was still a loss.

"Basically," White said, "they're out of their league."

The Rattlers were clearly relieved to get out of Savannah with a win. During one of the final timeouts, Darius Glover tried to calm his teammates. "Come on, guys. Relax. Relax."

When Carson shot an airball on a desperation 3-pointer that could have forced overtime, Florida A&M coach Mike Gillespie walked in front of the bench and said defiantly, "We won the ... game."

Savannah State couldn't say that all year, joining Prairie View in the hall of infamy. The Texas school went 0-28 in 1991-92 -- the only other Division I team in the last 50 years to endure a winless season.

The Tigers won four games last season, but had to forfeit those because of an ineligible player -- the son of coach Edward Daniels, no less.

This time, Savannah State completed an imperfect season without having to rely on forfeits. The Tigers lost by an average margin of nearly 23 points a game.

"They gave it their best effort all year," Daniels said. "We just needed some additional help."

Daniels isn't sure if he'll be back next season, but that wasn't his concern on this night.

"The game is about the kids," he said. "Whether I'm here or not, this will go on. It's more important than me. I just want to make sure my kids are all right. I'm going to spend the next few days with them."

Savannah State has only eight scholarship players -- five short of the limit and the most striking example of a school that had no business jumping to Division I.

The Tigers had some success in Division II -- former NFL great Shannon Sharpe is an alumnus -- but moving up to the highest level has been a major blunder. The school doesn't have enough money to fully fund any of its programs, and no conference stepped forward with an invitation.

So, Savannah State plays on as an independent, with scant hope of success.

"It's very tough," Carson said. "We all came together and fought hard. We just couldn't pull it out."

Harry Carson traveled from New Jersey to watch his son's final college game, taking part in ceremonies before the game to honor the team's three seniors.

"He's learned some valuable lessons that will be with him the rest of his life," the ex-football star said. "It's just a game. He'll live. The sun will come up tomorrow. I'm sure he's not feeling good right now, but he'll be OK."

At least the Tigers got what they craved when they ventured into Division I -- plenty of attention. ESPN even did live "cut-ins" during its regular programming to provide updates on Savannah State's plight.

Florida A&M routed Savannah State 92-68 in Tallahassee 12 days earlier, but the Rattlers had a much tougher time in the Tigers' gym.

When it was over, Daniels huddled briefly with four of his players. He told them he was proud of their effort. He reminded them that they've got their whole lives to erase the disappointment of this winless season.

"People remember the last thing you've done," Daniels said. "They have a chance to go on and do some other things. Maybe they'll be able to look back and talk in a lighthearted way about this."

But not on this night.

The embarrassment was too real.

The ending was too painful.

"We're all just struggling emotionally," Reddick said. "It's hard to describe."