PRINCESS ANNE, Md. — With their recent play, the early season struggles for the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks appear to be all but a distant memory.
The Hawks came into Monday’s tilt with the Savannah State Tigers riding a three-game winning streak, two of which came on the road. In their last outing on Saturday, the Hawks rolled over the preseason-favourite South Carolina State Bulldogs, 92-69.
Recently, the Hawks have been playing their best basketball of the season, but both players and coaches know that there’s still work to be done before the post-season gets underway.
The road to the MEAC Tournament still had to go through Savannah State, who entered the game at 6-2 in the conference, and near the top of the conference standings. The Tigers entered Monday riding a five-game winning streak of their own.
Both teams came out of the gate hot from three point range, as the first five field goals of the game were all from beyond the arc. The Tigers took an eight-point lead into the break, but had to work right down to the wire to score the road win.
Troyce Manassa scored 13 of his team-high 20 points in the final six minutes of the second half, and Savannah State put an end to the Hawks’ three game winning streak with an 87-82 win.
The game was a little slow out of the gate, as a pair of shot clock issues stunted the first possession of the game for the Hawks. Once the clock was good to go, it started raining from beyond the arc on both ends of the floor.
Within the first two-and-a-half minutes, Ryan Andino and Dexter McClanahan hit a pair of three pointers each for their teams, and the Tigers held an early 9-6 lead.
Savannah State wouldn’t trail in the first half, taking a 47-39 lead into the break. A pair of three pointers from Jahir Cabeza gave the Tigers a 10-point lead with 15:46 to play.
Maryland-Eastern Shore would respond in a big way. The Hawks reeled off a 13-2 run, capped off by a three from Dontae Caldwell, to take their first lead of the game. Shortly thereafter, Thomas Rivera connected on a three of his own to give the Hawks a 75-70 lead with under six minutes to play.
Like the Hawks did when their backs were against the wall, the Tigers fought back and retook a lead, one that they would never relinquish. Bakari Copeland got the Hawks back to within three with under two minutes on the clock, and a free throw from Caldwell cut the deficit to 82-80 with 18 seconds left, but they were unable to overtake the Tigers.
Manassa hit three of four free throws in the closing seconds, and Savannah State held on for the 87-82 win over Maryland-Eastern Shore, ending the Hawks’ winning streak at three and extending their own to six games in the process.
Troyce Manassa went just 4-of-15 from the field, but he finished the game going 11-of-13 from the free throw line, scoring a team-high 20 points in the win.
After his hot start, Dexter McClanahan quieted down a bit the rest of the way, but still finished with 18 points.
Dontae Caldwell recorded a double-double to lead the Hawks, recording 20 points and 12 rebounds in a losing effort. Bakari Copeland added 14 points of his own in just 24 minutes of action. He was limited in the first half due to two early fouls.
Ryan Andino added 15 points, all of which came from behind the arc.
Savannah State and Maryland-Eastern Shore combined to take 78 three-pointers. The Hawks went 11-of-35 (31.4%), while the Tigers went 13-of-43 (30.2%).
With the win, the Savannah State Tigers (10-12, 7-2) keep pace with the Morgan State Bears and Norfolk State Spartans in the top three of the MEAC standings. They will look to win their seventh-straight game on Saturday when they host the Hampton Pirates.
Despite the loss, the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks (7-15, 4-3) are still in the thick of things in the MEAC. They will look to get back on track on Wednesday, when they head out on the road to square off against Hampton.
– T. Bennett