BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Central State University women’s basketball team fell to Benedict College, 77-72, in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference final Saturday, March 4 at Bill Harris Arena.
Featuring the regular season champs from the West and East Divisions, the teams opened the game trading baskets resulting in a 10-10 tie with 3:34 left in the first quarter. Leanna Morrison scored the next six points for BC as the Tigers ended the quarter on a 10-5 run to take a 20-15 lead. BC extended its lead to nine points after a Simone Roberts basket gave the Tigers a 26-17 lead at the 8:44 mark. CSU managed to remain within striking distance. Two Falon Edwards free throws at the end of the half cut the deficit to, 40-35, at intermission.
By the 7:20 mark of the third quarter, CSU had pulled within two points after a three-point play from Ghameerah McCullers. BC responded with a Shannaissa White three-pointer, and the Tigers slowly built their lead up to 11 by the 2:19 mark. CSU’s Rahni Bell kept her team in the game by scoring the team’s final eight points of the quarter as the Lady Marauders trailed 63-57 entering the fourth quarter.
After a Roberts three-pointer gave BC a 66-59 lead, CSU scored the next six points to pull with one point with 4:20 left on the clock. After a string a free throws from both sides, CSU had a chance to tie or take the lead, but missed two chances to do so as shots from Ghameerah McCullers and Destinee Russell hit the back of the cylinder and bounced out. Morrison converted a three-point play for BC on the next possession to put her team up by five with 2:40 to play and CSU was never able to fully recover. BC was 5 of 7 from the free throw line which ended up being enough to lift them to their second consecutive SIAC title.
Benedict was making its fifth consecutive appearance in the SIAC women’s basketball title game. The game marked CSU’s first conference tournament final appearance since becoming an NCAA Division II school.
“We put forth a great effort today and had a chance to win the game. We just didn’t execute as well as we could have down the stretch and Benedict made the necessary plays to win the game,” Marauders women’s basketball coach Sheba Harris said. “I am really proud of the way our ladies worked all season long. We have accomplished so many great things this season and I want them to continue to hold their heads up high.”
The Benedict reserves played a huge part in the Tigers championship victory. The BC bench finished with a combined 45 points compared to 12 points from the CSU reserves.
Moore led BC scorers with 22 points. Morrison added 19 points. SIAC Player of the Year Destiny Betts finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds as BC earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Div. II National Tournament with a 21-7 overall record.
Bell finished with a game-high 24 points to go along with five rebounds. Hindered by foul trouble, McCullers still made an impact with 14 points, five rebounds and four steals. Mustafa Notter recorded 10 points and eight rebounds. McCullers and Notter were named to the SIAC’s All-Tournament team.
The loss dropped the Lady Marauders’ record to 20-8 overall. It’s the first time a Central State women’s basketball team won 20 games in a season since 2007-‘08. On Sunday, CSU’s season officially ended when the team did not receive an at-large bid to play in the NCAA Division II National Tournament.
Story provided by Central State University Sports Information Director Nick Novy.