Morehouse players and coaches celebrate their 72-67 victory over Clark Atlanta on Thursday, February 22, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Morehouse beats Clark Atlanta 72-67 to win SIAC regular season title

The cross-campus rematch didn’t disappoint. 

For the second time this month, the No. 20 Clark Atlanta Panthers and No. 9 Morehouse Maroon Tigers squared off in another epic match in this historic rivalry. The Maroon Tigers entered the game with a chance to win the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference East Division title for the first time since 2013, while a Panthers win would result in the rivals sharing the honor. 

In front of a raucous sold-out crowd at Frank L. Forbes Arena, the SIAC’s leading scorer Tyrius Walker netted 21 of his 27 points in the second half to lead Morehouse to a 72-67 win over Clark Atlanta. The fans scattered across the court cheered as Morehouse coach Grady Brewer cut down the final piece of twine holding one of the nets in place as the Maroon Tigers celebrated their first outright regular-season SIAC title since 2004. 

“I haven’t done that in a long time,” Brewer said. “I am going to enjoy this and I hope the players are going to enjoy this.”

Walker is one of the players who began savoring the title right when the final buzzer sounded. 

“I told coach and the guys, I wanted to play Clark Atlanta on my senior night and I told them we are going to cut down those nets,” Walker said with a piece of net behind his ear. “I am going to give it to my grandma because I told her right before the game I was going to get her a piece of the net.”

The Maroon Tigers held on at the end despite a relentless charge in the final 10 minutes of the game by the Panthers. Morehouse took a 61-44 lead with 10:08 left to play. Led by senior Damien Davis and junior Shelvick Henry Jr. the Panthers clawed back into the game. The two combined for 11 points during a 19-4 run that cut the Morehouse lead to 65-63 with just under two minutes left.

Clark Atlanta had a golden opportunity to tie the game with 1:07 remaining after Walker pushed the lead to 67-63 on a layup. Davis went up for a dunk on a fastbreak and was fouled from behind, which the referees determined was a flagrant one foul – meaning two free throws and the ball back. However, Davis missed both free throws and when the Panthers got the ball back, he missed the front end of a 1-and-1. He then proceeded to pick up his fifth foul sending the Morehouse student section, which sat directly behind the Clark Atlanta bench into a frenzy. 

While the Morehouse students danced and taunted the Panthers players, Walker hit four free throws down the stretch to put the game out of reach. 

“To see that we cut the nets down on them with a sweep – they beat us last year to win the (regular season SIAC) title and to go to the (SIAC Tournament) Championship – it was personal,” Walker said. 

“This is the first time we have played Clark Atlanta in my 30 years here that there has been something like this on the line,” Brewer said. “That makes it more amped up. Those are our brothers across the street but when it’s time to beat your brother, you got to beat them and let them know who is boss.”

The evening began with an expectation. On Feb. 8, Morehouse (24-1, 18-1) and Clark Atlanta (22-4, 16-3) played in a thrilling triple-overtime battle with the Maroon Tigers coming out on top 97-96. It was going to be almost impossible for Thursday night’s game to top the deafening atmosphere the two teams participated in two weeks ago. But somehow Forbes Arena did it. With a championship at stake, the coaches, players and fans showed up ready. 

The crowd overflowed onto the floor to the point where not a foot of hardwood surrounding the court was exposed. The Morehouse mascot was escorted to the other side of the arena by police after he repeatedly waved a Morehouse flag over the Clark Atlanta bench. Panthers head coach Darrell Walker brought a good luck charm in his former New York Knicks and Washington Bullets teammate, NBA Hall of Famer Bernard King. 

On the court, the game was a blur. Both teams pushed the pace from the opening tip. With the game knotted at 20 in the first half, the Maroon Tigers decided to play a 3-point shooting contest. Six of their seven made baskets the rest of the half were 3-pointers, including three from junior James Walker. The Panthers stayed close only going into halftime down 40-34. 

The second half began with a chaotic pace. The referees swallowed their whistles allowing for the players to decide the high-stakes game. Players on both sides threw up wild shots to no avail for the first five minutes of the half. Morehouse was the first team to calm its offense down and begin making baskets. Walker scored 12 points in a span of five minutes to help the Maroon Tigers jump out to the 61-44 advantage. 

“That is one heck of a kid. You guys are going to see him in the future making money playing this game,” Brewer said. 

With the win, Morehouse secured the East Division No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the SIAC Tournament, which begins on Feb. 26 in Birmingham, Ala. Clark Atlanta will take the second seed in the East and receive a first-round bye. 

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