Tigers hold off Savannah State to reach SIAC semifinals

SAVANNAH, Ga. – The Benedict College Tigers jumped out to as much as a 21-point lead in the first half, then weathered a massive Savannah State second-half comeback, to take a 78-68 victory in the quarterfinals of the 2023 TIAA SIAC Basketball Tournament, presented by Cricket, on Thursday night in Savannah State’s gym.

The game was a rematch of last year’s SIAC championship game, which saw Savannah State take a 33-point first-half lead and cruise to a 14-point victory.

Benedict advances to face Kentucky State, the third seed from the West Division, in the semifinals at 5 p.m. on Friday. The Thorobreds defeated the Tigers 90-87 in Columbia in their only meeting of the season on Dec. 5.

Tim Moore led the Tigers with 20 points, while Brandon Smith added 18. Brandon Beidleman chipped in 11 points, while Malachi McCoy contributed nine points and had a game-high nine rebounds.

“We jumped out on them early, and we knew they were going to make a run, but they made a bigger run than I expected,” said Benedict head coach Artis Maddox. “We had to come out and play harder than them. That’s what we did the first half, the second half not so much. But the first half gave us a big enough cushion to seal the game.”

Benedict had a 15-9 lead midway through the first half when the Tigers went on a 13-point run to build a 28-9 lead with 5:30 remaining. A three-point play by Moore gave Benedict a 37-16 lead with 1:19 left in the half. Savannah State scored the final six points of the half to make it 39-22 at the break.

Benedict scored the first 14 points of the second half, including a four-point play by Moore, to take a 31-point lead, 53-22.

Savannah State started chipping away at the lead, then used a 12-1 run late in the second half to cut the deficit to seven points, 64-57, after back-to-back 3-pointers. A three-point play by Savannah State made it 69-66 with 1:34 remaining, but Moore raced down for an empathic dunk to give Benedict a 71-63 lead with 1:26 left to play.

“We had way too many turnovers in the second half,” Maddox said. “They pressured us, we couldn’t handle it, the crowd got into it, and it was all downhill from there. They sped us up in the second half, made us commit those turnovers, got the crowd going, and before you know it, it was a seven or eight point game.”

Savannah State made it 71-66 after a free throw with 49 seconds left to play, but Smith came down on a fast break layup, and the Tigers hit five-of-six free throws in the final 23 seconds to seal the game.

“We lost to Savannah State last year when we were the favorite to beat them, and they embarrassed us last year,” Maddox said. “All season long, the guys have been talking about getting revenge and playing better and playing harder on this stage. We’ve got to continue to play better, correct some mistakes, and get ready for tomorrow.”

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