Birmingham, Ala. — A year after finishing last in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s East Division, the 2018 East Division regular season champion Clark Atlanta Lady Panthers defeated Central State 71-70 in the 2018 SIAC Basketball Tournament championship game and are now headed to the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Marissa Mandeldove, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, drove the lane and hit a basket with 2.3 seconds left to lift Clark Atlanta to the program’s first SIAC tournament championship since 2013. She finished with 23 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals.
The Lady Panthers, who trailed by as many as 15 in the first half, were behind by nine points after Brooke Spaulding’s basket gave Central State a 51-42 lead with 3:17 left in the game. Mandeldove then scored six of the next nine points, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 51-51 with 1:48 left in the third quarter.
The lead seesawed until Central State took a four-point lead at 63-59 with 5:35 remaining. Mandeldove had a layup and then, as the CAU defense clamped down, she added another basket to tie the game at 63-63 with 3:31 left.
Central State held firm, eventually going up by one, 68-67 after Spaulding’s jumper with 1:04 remaining. Mandeldove then misfired on a jumper, but Courtney Hall rebounded and put it back in to give CAU a 69-68 lead with 30 seconds left. Jaeda Davis countered with a basket for CSU that put them back ahead 70-69 with 14 seconds left.
Then Mandeldove brought the ball up, surveyed the defense and sliced through the lane, converting her layup with 2.3 seconds left to give CAU the win.
Naomi Holloway, who also made the All-Tournament team, finished with 14 points, six rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal. Courtney Hall had 12 points and eight rebounds, while Kiyanna Johnson and Lauren Turner, who both had big 3-point baskets late, finished with nine points and eight points.
“Central State and our team are pretty similar,” said CAU Head Coach Yolanda Moore. “They have really good guards, just like we do. I told them from day one, this was about who wants it more. This tournament is about who’s willing to sacrifice, who’s willing to do what they need to do win. And today I’m just so proud of them because they showed that they wanted it more.”
With the SIAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament secured, the Lady Panthers find out Sunday at 10 p.m. where they will go for the opening round which begins on March 10.
Courtesy: CAU Athletics