WSSU tops Shaw to advance to Men's Championship
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Winston-Salem State University reached the championship game in its second year back in the CIAA.
The Rams stunned defending champion Shaw University 51-48 Friday (March 2) in the CIAA men’s semifinals at Time Warner Cable Arena. They will face Elizabeth City State University in the finals starting at 8 p.m.
The loss eliminates the Bears (25-3 overall) from the tournament, but they are a cinch to make the NCAA Division II Tournament. They entered the CIAA Tournament with their highest national ranking ever at No. 5 in the NABC Coaches poll and a No. 2 regional ranking.
The Rams, ranked ninth regionally, definitely enhanced their chances of earning a Division II tournament berth. Of course, they will get the league’s automatic bid if they take out the Vikings on Saturday.
This is the 17th trip to the CIAA championship game for the Rams, but their first since coming back to Division II last season. The Rams have captured 10 league titles.
The No. 2 Southern Division seed, the Rams reached the finals by snapping the Bears’ 21-game win streak. The contest was a stark contrast to the earlier regular-season meetings, both Shaw victories by 16 and 28 points. On Friday, both teams scored season lows in points.
“This is a team defensive effort,” WSSU head coach Bobby Collins said. “To hold [Shaw] to 48 points, I never would have thought that.”
The Rams held on after a frenzied final seconds. CIAA rookie of the year WyKevin Bazemore made two free throws for a 51-48 lead with 19 seconds left. After a Shaw timeout, Tony Smith committed a turnover for the Bears to give the Rams possession.
Justin Glover missed the front end of a one-and-one. CIAA player of the year Malik Allen lost the ball after dribbling down the sideline, but Bazemore traveled as he recovered the loose ball which gave possession back to the Bears with 0.2 seconds left.
Smith attempted a three pointer from the wing on an in-bounds pass, but the horn sounded before he got the shot off. The large contingent of Rams’ fans erupted while the players celebrated.
“I give Bobby Collins credit,” Shaw coach Cleo Hill, Jr. said. “They did their homework and played with more passion and fire than what we played with.”
Glover led the Rams with 12 points including nine in the second half. Joseph Thompson scored 11 points and Bazemore added 10 for the Rams, who were behind 41-34 with 9:10 left. Glover keyed the Rams’ comeback, scoring seven points during a 9-1 run capped by a three-pointer to give the Rams a 43-42 lead, their first since late in the first half. During the run, Glover got up high for a spectacular one-handed alley-oop dunk which fired up his teammates and sparked the rally.
Smith of the Bears led all scorers with 16 points while Alvin added 13 points for the Bears, who scored no fastbreak points for the first time this season. Junius Chaney added nine points and four blocks.
“Shaw thrives on transition offense,” Collins said. “We controlled that and didn’t give them anything easy.”
The Bears held a 24-22 halftime lead behind seven points from Chaney and six points from Smith. The lead at the break was the smallest in the three games played between the two divisional foes. The Bears led by 19 and 24 points at halftime in the previous meetings.
The Bears held a slim lead despite shooting a sizzling 56.3 percent from the floor including 5-for-9 from the three-point line for 55.6 percent. The Rams, led by seven points from Thompson, forced three more turnovers and held a 4-0 edge in offensive rebounding. Kimani Hunt and Wakefield Ellison both added five points for the Rams, who shot 34.8 percent.
Shaw opened a 14-9 lead on a layup by Chaney in the early moments, but the Rams came back to take the lead at 19-16 on a Stephon Platt layup. The Bears surge back ahead, scoring eight straight points capped by a Smith three-pointer with 37 seconds left. Hunt swished a three-pointer with three seconds remaining to trail by two at halftime.
The high-powered Bears entered the tournament as the favorite after one of their best regular seasons in school history. They had not lost a game since mid-December and 12 of their wins were by double figures.
This was the Bears seventh trip to the semifinals including their third in a row. They have advanced to the finals three times, winning the championship in 2002 and 20011.
The Rams came into the tournament having lost four of their last six games including two straight to end the regular season. They survived a quarterfinal tilt against Virginia Union Wednesday, winning by a slim 56-55 margin.
The Rams began the season on fire. They won 15 of their first 17 games to earn a national ranking but an injury to top player Lamar Monger put the Rams in a tailspin. Monger averaged 15.1 points per game in 11 games before his injury. Glover, the team’s leading scorer, and Bazemore took up the slack.