The Claflin University men’s basketball team defeated Clark Atlanta University, 69-61, on Saturday, March 3 to capture the 2018 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) Title.
The Panthers finished the regular season 25-6, the most wins since the 2008-09 season when the team went 25-4. The win also gives the Panthers the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Regionals scheduled for March 10-13. This is the first SIAC men’s basketball tournament title for Claflin University men.
It will be the second time the Panthers have participated in the NCAA Division II Tournament and the first in nine years. Claflin received an at-large bid in 2009. Pairings for the NCAA Division II Men’s Regionals released this week pit the #3 seed Claflin in a March 10 rematch against #6 seed Clark Atlanta on the campus of host school and #1 seed Morehouse College. It will be the teams’ fourth match-up of the season, with Claflin holding a 2-1 advantage.
Head Coach Ricky Jackson was named the tournament Most Outstanding Coach. Jaleel Charles was named the Tournament Most Valuable Player and Triston Thompson was named to the named to the All-Tournament Team.
Claflin advanced to the championship game by defeating Morehouse in the semi-finals, 77-69.
Jaleel Charles scored 18 points with 10 rebounds to pace Claflin in the win. Benjamin “Tre” Williams scored 13 points and Triston Thompson dropped in 11 for Claflin.
Akil Douglas led Clark Atlanta with 14 points. Jalen Mitchell and Damien Davis scored 12 for Clark Atlanta who finished with 24-5 record.
Douglass connected on a three-point play for Clark Atlanta to open the scoring for the second half. Claflin remained poised, scoring the next four points and increasing the lead to 14, 39-25, with 18:55 showing on the clock.
Clark Atlanta picked up its offensive intensity over the next four-plus minutes scoring the next 9-of-11 points to pull within nine points, 43-35, with 13:10 remaining.
Tyler Thompson hit a short jumper with 4:06 remaining to push Claflin back up by six.
Claflin was dominate at the free-throw line down the stretch, connecting on 8-of-8 within the last two minutes en route to capturing the title.
“I thought today we really played hard from start to finish,” said head coach Ricky Jackson. “I actually really didn’t have much to say, they knew what needed to be done, they set the goal to win this Championship and they met the goal — they did what needed to be done.”
Claflin jumped out to a quick 6-1 run by the 18:10 mark. The Panthers pushed their lead to nine, 13-4, by the first media timeout at 15:43.
The Panthers remained aggressive out of the timeout, maintaining at least an eight-point lead over the next 10 minutes while owning an 11-point lead twice.
Claflin enjoyed its largest lead of 13 (29-16) with 4:24 left in the first half.
Claflin’s defense remained solid for the remainder of the half en route to taking a 35-22 lead into intermission.