Courtesy of Clark Atlanta Athletics
Every L.S. Epps Gymnsium seat filled, the Mighty Marching Panthers Band playing and the 11th ranked team in the country in Atlanta University Center rival Morehouse College had Clark Atlanta University head basketball coach George Lynch fired up as if he were getting ready to play.
It was everything Lynch had heard leading up to his first time coaching in the intense, but respectful, Clark Atlanta-Morehouse rivalry.
“I was excited. I wanted to put my uniform on,” Lynch said after Clark Atlanta defeated Morehouse 68-60. “That’s what college basketball is all about. Full house. Music is playing. Fans are cheering and wanting to see a great game and we gave them that tonight. I really appreciate the student body and fans for showing up tonight.”
They got a close game that matched expectations, especially after last season’s epic, three-overtime game in which Morehouse nipped CAU 97-96.
Though Clark Atlanta led most of the first half, their biggest lead before the break was only four points, the first time after Shannon Smith’s 3-pointer made it 10-6 at the 14:40 mark. The Maroon Tigers countered with a basket by Omar Alston and a 3-pointer by James Walker to take an 11-10 two minutes later.
Jalen Mitchell followed with a 3-pointer of his own, followed by a Shelvick Henry basket to again go up by four, 15-11. Midway through the half, Morehouse went up by three on Chibueze Ebinum’s layup making it 18-15. But CAU finished the half outscoring Morehouse 13-6 to take a 28-24 lead into the break.
The Panthers worked that lead up to nine early in the second half Austin Donaldson’s 3-pointer making it 35-26. But CAU missed five of their next six shots as Morehouse tied the game at 37-37 on two Alston free throws with 13:34 left.
CAU found their shooting stroke over the next six minutes, going back up by eight – 49-41 – on Craig Hall’s free throw.
That lead got to as many as nine points just over three minutes remaining, but Morehouse had another run left in them. With a minute remaining, Michael Olmert hit a free throw that pulled Morehouse to within four at 62-58 as time out was called.
“We just talked about the little things,” Lynch said. “I think in that time out I said 50-50 balls, this is where you have to finish games, you have to go to the free throw line and make free throws…. We didn’t panic. We just tried to get back to running our offense and guys were able to execute. “
Over the next minute, the Panthers forced a turnover and hit six-of-eight free throws while Morehouse couldn’t connect on their final three shot attempts.
CAU broke a three-game losing streak to Morehouse. The Panthers last defeated the Maroon Tigers 71-66 on Jan. 30, 2017. The Panthers held Morehouse to 60 points, 17 points below their average, and 33 percent shooting when they’ve averaged 48 percent this season.
“The guys worked hard in practice and shoot around,” Lynch said. “I think they were focused. Still made a few mistakes throughout the game that we have to clean up, but overall it’s a great effort.”
CAU was led by the SIAC’s third and fifth leading scorers. Henry had a game-high 27 points, with four rebounds, four assists and two steals. He also hit 10-of-13 free throws. Jalen Mitchell finished with 14 points, two rebounds, two assists, and a steal.
Austin Donaldson had eight points and rebounds while Romaine Thomas finished with six points and eight rebounds. Shannon Smith had six points and seven rebounds.
The Panthers will be back on the court Saturday, Feb. 2 when they visit Fort Valley State. Clark Atlanta is now one-half game out of second place in the SIAC East Division, just behind Albany State. CAU is two games behind East Division leading Morehouse.