SAVANNAH, Ga. — Miles College winning the 2023 TIAA SIAC Basketball Championship with a 60-46 win over Benedict is a story rife with subplots and twists that explain how difficult it can be to put everything together and win the league title.
But it is through some of those tales that explain how the victory – which secured a third SIAC crown in four tries for head coach Fred Watson since he took over the Golden Bears program in 2018 – looked so easy and thorough in the box score.
Tournament Most Valuable Player Rodney Battles scored the first points of the game on a 3-pointer and Miles College never trailed from that point. He scored eight of his game-high 15 points in the first half but he was not his dominant self in this contest. Watson has said that he and Battle both know that teams are going to design game plans to stop him but that there are others on the team who can step up in his stead to get the job done.
Normally, that is guard Eddie Smith. But against Benedict, Smith was grinding through an injury that only allowed him to play 13 minutes and take two shots from the field (he missed them both). So others had to move to the forefront, and they did in a big way.
Last season, Yasim Hooker and Mykayle Carterwere the two go-to players on offense. Hooker was a first team all-conference performer in 2022 but ceded the primary scoring responsibility to Battle and concentrated on other parts of his game. But in need of some scoring against the Tigers, he stepped right up, scoring 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking two shots.
Miles closed the first half by scoring the last 10 points. The final three came on a 50-foot heave from Hooker that swished through as the horn was sounding to give Miles a 33-19 lead at the half. He also showed his skywalking abilities, rocking two monster dunks in the second half en route to a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
Carter, a long-range marksman who averaged more than 10 points per game and shot 43 percent from downtown last season, saw both numbers regress in 2022-23 and was coming off an 0-for-6 shooting performance in Friday’s overtime win over Morehouse.
But he finally found his stroke against Benedict. He scored 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field, including 3-of-5 on 3-pointers. He followed Hooker’s two dunks with back-to-back 3-balls that gave Miles a 47-30 lead midway through the second half and had Benedict on the ropes.
Before January 30, Chase Ballard was averaging just under 17 minutes of playing time per contest. He has been the backup point guard all season, but in crunch time, he was not always on the floor. Since then, the sophomore has seen his playing time jump by nearly nine minutes per game.
He was already playing big minutes down the stretch in this tournament but when Smith was hobbled early, he was the first man up. His consistent brand of defense was supplemented with a career-high 14 points in 31 minutes against Benedict.
He was 4-of-6 from the floor, had a team-high four assists, and was perfect from the charity stripe – including four straight freebies inside the final two minutes that iced the championship for the Golden Bears. Even though he did not start a game during the tournament, he was named to the All-Tournament Team.
No one on this year’s team was a part of the previous two SIAC Championships at Miles and each of them, along with their coach, savored the road traveled to get to the league’s pinnacle.
But the group, as a whole, has bigger aspirations and they will come more into focus on Sunday night when Miles finds out its opponent in the NCAA South Region Tournament as the SIAC automatic representative in the national tournament.
Courtesy: Miles College Athletics