BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Latoya Fairley was named the tournament Most Valuable Player with her second straight double-double and Santera Grooms scored 10 points in overtime to lead the Benedict College Lady Tigers to the 2014 SIAC Championship with a 67-64 overtime victory over Albany State University on Saturday in the Bill Harris Arena.
It was Benedict's first women's basketball championship since 2010, and the first for second-year head coach James Rice, who lost to Clark Atlanta in last year's title game. This was Benedict's fourth championship in 10 years. Benedict, now 20-9, earned the SIAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Division II National Tournament. Tournament seedings and pairings will be announced Sunday night.
Fairley had 12 points and 10 rebounds and two blocked shots. Grooms had a team-high 18 points. She took control in overtime, driving to the basket and scoring or getting fouled. She was six-for-six from the line in overtime. Amanda Toliver, who was also named to the All-Tournament team, had 16 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.
Fairley, who was left off the SIAC All-Conference Team, said there was no personal incentive on her part to prove she is one of the conference's top players.
"I don't think about stuff like that. I think about we, I don't think about I," Fairley said. "I'm just so excited right now. I just knew my team needed me in this tournament. I did everything I could to help us win."
Albany State, now 21-6, was led by Artisha Holston with a game-high 22 points. Kourtney Alexander added 14.
Albany State got off to a hot start, scoring the first eight points of the game and leading 17-5 midway through the first half. Benedict rallied to cut the lead to 28-27 at the half.
A layup by Britenique Harrison to open the second half gave Benedict its first lead of the game, 29-28.
The Golden Rams had a 50-41 lead with 3:58 left in regulation after a layup by Holston. Benedict came back with a jumper by Grooms, two free throws by Toliver and a layup by Fairley to cut the lead to 50-47 with 1:41 left to play.
Holston scored for the Golden Rams, then Grooms scored a layup with 35 seconds to make it 52-49. Holston hit one of two free throws with 31 seconds left, then Toliver scored to make it 53-51 with 26 seconds left. Mecca Frost made one of two free throws, but Ashley Thompson sank two free throws for Benedict to cut the lead to one point, 54-53 with 18 seconds remaining.
Thompson sank two more free throws a few seconds later to give Benedict a 55-54 lead. A Benedict foul put Alexander on the line, where she made one of two attempts to tie the game at 55 with 14 seconds left and send the game to overtime.
Back-to-back jumpers gave Albany State a 61-59 lead in overtime, but Grooms hit two free throws to tie the game and Maya Nelson hit two free throws to give Benedict the lead, 63-61 with 1:38 to play. After Albany State made one free throw to cut Benedict's lead to one point, Grooms scored a layup for a 65-62 lead with 1:05 on the clock. After Albany State cut the lead back to one point on two free throws by Frost, Grooms sank two free throws for a 67-64 lead with 24 seconds left. Albany State missed three 3-pointers in the final 11 seconds.
"We were kind of tight at the beginning of the game and we gave up too many easy baskets," Rice said. "I told them to stay focused, that the game wasn't over yet. That was our thing this whole tournament, to stay focused, and our young ladies bought into it. This is big for our young ladies and our school."
Albany State coach Robert Skinner said he was expecting Benedict to come back after the Lady Rams took the early lead.
"Basketball is a game of runs. I knew it was coming. Everybody makes their runs. They just made the last one," Skinner said. "They were the better team today. We didn't execute as well when we got tired, but Benedict had a lot do to with that."
2014 SIAC Women's All-Tournament Team
Latoya Fairley, Benedict College (Most Outstanding Performer)
Jomanda Smalls, Clark Atlanta University
Kajuanna Rivers, Tuskegee University
Amanda Toliver, Benedict College
Artisha Holston, Albany State University
Coach of the Tournament: James Rice, Benedict College