Things are heating up on the hardwood at Savannah State. Although it was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Tigers came away with a pair of impressive victories last week in Tiger Arena. On November 20, SSU scratched out a 59-58 win over Winthrop. The 3,010 fans on hand saw a tight game where no team lead by six points. In the second half, the lead changed hands eight times. Senior guard Terel Hall was fouled as he tied the game at 58 with a layup with 1.9 to play and followed with the game-clinching free throw. Hall led SSU with a career-high 15 points while Saadiq Muhammad added 14 points and seven rebounds. Alante Feener came off the bench to chip in 11 points. On Nov. 22, the Tigers (2-2) overcame a 13-point second half deficit and rallied to beat Cleveland State in overtime. Javaris Jenkins led the onslaught with a career-high 33 points and seven rebounds. SSU led 42-40 at the half but the Vikings started the second period with a 11-0 run. Late in the contest, Jenkins, who finished with six 3-pointers, drilled the game-tying 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to force overtime. The game was tied at 83 in the extra frame but SSU made key free throws down the stretch to earn the win. Fenner had 16 points and six rebounds while Khalen Pinkett scored 10 points and Hall dished out 10 assists.
Not to be outdone, the Savannah State women’s team picked up a key non-conference home win on Nov. 20 with a 71- 62 victory over Alabama State. SSU led by as many as 12 points in the first half but only led 37-35 at intermission. ASU opened the second half with a 3-pointer to grab a one-point lead but Savannah State answered with a 22-2 run. The Hornets strung together a 20-6 surge to get within five with just over two minutes left. Ezinne Kalu led SSU (2-1) with 25 points, 5 assists and 5 steals. Jasmine Norman and Tiyonda Davis added 12 points each. Norman had 6 rebounds, 6 steals and 4 assists while Davis grabbed 8 rebounds. The Lady Tigers return home on December 4 to host the Florida Gators. This won’t be the Gators first time in the port city. This will be the fourth meting between SSU and the Gators and the second time they played on the Savannah State campus. The Lady Tigers defeated Florida 90-62 in Wiley Wilcox Gym in 1976.
Savannah native Jacques Curtis was in town over the weekend. Curtis and his women’s basketball team at Shaw participated in the BJ Ford Classic hosted by Armstrong State on Nov. 21 & 22. Led by 6-4 senior center Verdine Warner, Shaw defeated Armstrong 77-72 on the first night. Warner had 31 points and 17 rebounds. The following night, Shaw fell to Clayton State 87-71 which dropped their record to 3-2. Since taking over Shaw, Curtis has built the team into a national Division II power. Curtis prepped at Benedictine and later earned a engineering degree from Savannah State. The former SSU men’s basketball coach led Shaw to a Div. II national championship in 2012.
The Savannah State football season came to a end on Nov. 22 in Provo, Utah with a 64-0 loss to Brigham Young. While the Cougars rolled up 487 yards of offense, their defense held SSU to just 63 yards. In a sense it was a game of men against boys. Because many of its players take a two-year break from football to take their mission, BYU had a age advantage over the Tigers. The average age of BYU’s players is almost 23 years old. The Tigers finished the season with a 0-12 record. Other winless seasons at SSU happened in 2005 (0-11), 2003 (0-12), 1976 (0-9), 1963 (0-6), 1953 (0-8), 1934 (0-4-1) and 1928 (0-3). Head coach Earnest Wilson and his troops have nowhere to go but up. The key will be stability among the players, a good off-season weight program and a good recruiting class.
Morgan State will represent the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in the FCS playoffs, thanks to a five-way tie in the conference. Along with Morgan State, Bethune-Cookman, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central and South Carolina State, all finished with a 6-2 MEAC record and will share the conference title. This is the first time in conference history that five teams earned a share the title.
In other HBCU football action, Virginia State of the CIAA advanced to the second round of the Division II playoffs with a 28-17 win over Long Island Post. Tuskegee of the SIAC hosted West Georgia in another first round game but came up short, suffering a 20-17 setback. This weekend, Grambling and Southern will meet in their annual Bayou Classic but the game will also have SWAC championship implications. Both teams compete in the western division of the SWAC and both have 3-0 divisional marks. Grambling has a 7-4 overall record and is 7-1 in conference play while Southern is 8-3 overall and 6-1 within the conference. the winner of the western division will play Alcorn State of the eastern half of the SWAC for the conference crown.