By Lut Williams
Black College Sports Page
BIRMINGHAM, AL – Clark Atlanta forward Chuka Eneh drained a dramatic 3-pointer with just 18 seconds left to give the Panthers and first-year head coach Darrell Walker a hard-fought 64-62 win over Fort Valley State in the championship game of the SIAC Basketball Tournament Saturday night at the Bill Harris Arena.
The nip-and-tuck contest had the teams tied at 29 at the break and produced eight more ties in the second half with six lead changes. The teams were never separated by more than five points in the final half.
The final lead changes started with 43 seconds left when Anthony Williams put CAU up 61-60 as he canned the first of two free throws. Then, Jalen Crawford, who led the Wildcats with 12 points, put FVSU back in front 62-61 when he drained a jumper at the 32-second mark. The Panthers brought the ball downcourt and found Eneh in 3-point land and he knocked down the trey for the final lead.
Down 64-62, FVSU got the ball past halfcourt, narrowly avoided a tie up but instead got a timeout with five seconds left. The Wildcats inbounded the ball to Crawford who got off a deep 3-pointer that clanged off the rim as time expired.
Walker, who had a distinguished 10-year NBA playing career with five teams and won an NBA title with 1993 Chicago Bulls, took over a 9-win CAU team from the 2015-16 season that was picked in the 2017 preseason to finish fourth in the East Division and ninth overall in the 13-team SIAC. Instead, the Panthers (21-11) fought hard all year long and entered the tournament as the 2nd-seeded team from the East.
“It feels great, but I’m just so happy for my guys,” said Walker, who had head coaching stints in the NBA with Toronto and Washington and was an assistant with four other NBA teams. “I rode them hard all season but they responded – they bought in.”
After the game, CAU fans could be heard singing Drake’s ‘Started from the bottom now we’re here.’
Sanders, a 6-2 senior and all-SIAC guard, led the Panthers with 16 points and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Williams and Lawrence Triplett each finished with 13. Williams canned 9 of 12 free throws. CAU got 55 of its 64 points from its starters.
FVSU, who upset East top seed Claflin in the quarterfinals and East 3rd-seed and defending tournament champion Benedict in the semis, came up just short of pulling off a trifecta.
Crawford was the only FVSU player to score in double digits but the Wildcats got great efforts from others. James Barnes had 9 points and led the rebounding effort with 12 boards. Kris Bell also had nine points while Jamal Garror had 8. Denard Williams scored six points and pulled down 11 rebounds. FVSU had a 49-33 rebounding edge that led to a 19-7 advantage in second-chance points. The ‘Cats also had a 24-9 margin in bench points.
FVSU (10-18) led for most of the first half building as much as a 9-point margin, at 21-12 with 5:58 to play. But the Wildcats closed the half on a 17-8 spurt, eventually taking a lead at 28-27 on a Tim Sanders 3-pointer with 2:28 to play. FVSU tied it at 29 on Bell’s lay-in with 1:50 left. Neither team scored from there.
2017 SIAC Men's Basketball All-Tournament Team
Tim Sanders, Clark Atlanta - MVP
James Barnes – Fort Valley State
Brandon Morris – Benedict
Quayshun Hawkins – Benedict
Rashawn Brown – LeMoyne-Owen
Darrell Walker, Clark Atlanta – Coach of the Tournament