Two down, one to go.
The Dalton State College Roadrunners landed a spot in the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament championship game tonight after a 79-70 win over Stillman University in the semifinals on Friday afternoon in Montgomery, Alabama.
The second-seeded Roadrunners face fourth-seeded Loyola University, which upset top-seed Faulkner University, 69-66, on Friday night.
The championship game tips off at 6:30 p.m. CST with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NAIA National Championship Tournament, which is March 18-24 in Kansas City, Missouri.
During the regular season, Dalton State won its only matchup with Loyola, 102-87, in New Orleans.
The No. 4-ranked Roadrunners (29-3, 17-3 SSAC) have a strong shot for an at-large bid to the NAIA tournament.
Head coach Alex Ireland said the team is excited to play in the tournament championship after missing out on it last season.
"It's huge," Ireland said. "Our conference is such a good conference. Five teams are either ranked or receiving votes. It's probably the deepest our conference has ever been. To play two really good teams in William Carey and Stillman and come away with wins and to have a chance to compete for the conference championship is huge. We really wanted the regular season championship and we narrowly missed out on it so it's really big for us to win the tournament."
Against third-seeded Stillman, Randy Bell -- the team's leading scorer and SSAC Co-Player of the Year -- paced Dalton State with 17 points. Four other players scored in double figures as Rodley Adjei and Kevon Tucker each had 14 points, Igor Stokic scored 12 points and Dauson Womack went for 11 points.
Rebounding played a huge role in the game, Ireland said, as the Roadrunners out-rebounded Stillman 51-35. Dalton State had seven players with five or more rebounds: Stokic (eight); Adjei, Tucker and Womack (each with seven); and Bell (five).
Stillman jumped out to an early 15-7 lead. The Roadrunners struggled with Stillman's 2-3 zone defense, but a Dalton State timeout at the 13:44 mark led to a 16-7 Roadrunner scoring run.
At halftime, Dalton State held a 42-33 lead. The game went back and forth in the second half.
With 52 seconds left in the game, Stillman had trimmed the Dalton State lead to 72-68. Solid free-throw shooting down the stretch helped the Roadrunners hold on for the win.
The Roadrunners will be playing their third game in three days. Ireland isn't worried too much about fatigue affecting Dalton State since Loyola will also be playing its third game in three days.
"Sure, any time you play back-to-back or back-to-back-back like we're about to play, there's fatigue" Ireland said. "The thing is in the tournament, everybody's fatigued. It's March, everybody's banged up, everybody has someone on their team that's hurt. They're tired. It's just the reality of March basketball."
In the quarterfinals on Thursday, Dalton State beat William Carey 84-82. Loyola had a 74-65 semifinal win over Bethel University.