By Ryan Sarda
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Lincoln University (Pa.) Lady Lions used a stingy defense and overcame a late run to defeat Johnson C. Smith 50-46 in the first round of the CIAA Tournament on Tuesday night at the Time Warner Cable Arena.
Lincoln's defense forced Johnson C. Smith to 25.9 percent shooting on 14-of-54 from the floor. The Lady Lions also forced the Lady Golden Bulls to miss all 11 of their three-point attempts. Lincoln didn't shoot the ball much better, going 16-of-48 from the field for a 33.3 percent rate.
The victory marks the first time in history that the Lady Lions have won a first round game in the CIAA Tournament. In its previous two seasons as a member of the CIAA, Lincoln has lost in the first round.
The win also improves Lincoln, the fourth seed from the Northern Division, to 10-17 overall. The loss ends the season for Johnson C. Smith, the fifth seed from the Southern Division, at 8-18 overall.
"I'm very proud of the way the girls stepped up tonight," Lincoln head coach Jessica Kern said. "We've been very inconsistent in the energy category. Our energy has been very high and very low this season. We've written a lot of history for us at Lincoln this year, but not leaving after the first day means a whole lot to our school and this program."
The win sets Lincoln up a quarterfinal match-up with Fayetteville State, the number 1 seed from the Southern Division. The game is scheduled for a 3 p.m. tipoff on Wednesday.
Despite trailing 30-24 at halftime, the Lady Golden Bulls outscored Lincoln 22-20 in the second half to keep things close. Several times, Johnson C. Smith would get within a field goal and even got to within one, but they could never quite get over the hump in the second half.
"I think if we had just come a little more at ease and a little more control in the first half, I think it's a different ballgame," said Johnson C. Smith head coach Stephen Joyner, Jr. "But I'm proud of my kids. It's been a long year for us. We are well aware that this is the first time in a long time that we've been ranked fifth and this is the first time in a long time that we've been out in the first round. But it's something I guarantee won't be happening in the future."
Lincoln was led by Cynthia Johnson with a game-high 22 points and seven rebounds. Tahlar McIntosh came two points shy of a double-double, finishing with eight points and 10 rebounds in the victory.
Johnson C. Smith was paced by Kaylah Gholson with 17 points. LaKendra Wilkerson finished with a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards in the loss.
At the 13:51 mark of the first half, the Lady Lions took a 17-6 cushion for their largest lead of the contest. It came as a result of a three-point play from Johnson, who buried the free throw after converting a layup.
The Lady Golden Bulls answered with a 10-2 run over the next six minutes to pull within three at 19-16. Ny'Jae Dickerson made a layup at the 7:10 mark of the period to keep the game at arm's length.
The Lady Lions responded with a 9-3 run to build a 28-19 cushion with 2:07 remaining in the first half. A three-point bucket by Johnson pushed Lincoln to the nine-point advantage.
A pair of free throws by Wilkerson cut the deficit to seven before Johnson buried a jumper with 48 ticks remaining to extend it back to nine at 30-21.
Wilkerson scored the final three points of the first half, hitting a layup and burying a free throw with 13 seconds remaining. Lincoln went into the locker room ahead 30-24 at halftime.
Gholson and Wilkerson scored the first four points of the second half to make it a two-point game with 17:28 left.
At the 14:09 mark of the second half, Smith's Deanna Downer scored her only two points of the contest when she made a layup to make it 34-30.
Back-to-back buckets by Johnson gave the Lady Lions a comfortable eight-point advantage with 12:50 on the clock. Lincoln would go the next seven minutes without a field goal, scoring its points from the charity stripe.
During the stretch, the Lady Golden Bulls rallied with a 10-3 run to get within one at 41-40.
Johnson made a layup at the 5:44 mark to end Lincoln's field goal drought, which extended the lead to 43-40. A free throw by Amani Clark and a free throw by Johnson at the 3:25 mark pushed Lincoln's lead to 45-40.
Dickerson made a layup to bring the Lady Golden Bulls within three at 45-42. The bucket would be the last field goal of the game for Johnson C. Smith. Johnson extended Lincoln's lead to five when she converted a layup with 1:27 left in the game, which would be the last field goal of the contest.
Eighteen seconds later, Gholson buried a pair of free throws to cut Johnson C. Smith's deficit back to three. At the 50 and 44 second mark, respectively, Clark hit free throws to push it back to a five-point edge for the Lady Lions.
A free throw by Gholson with 36 seconds remaining and a free throw from Wilkerson with nine ticks left pulled the Lady Golden Bulls back to within three. With six seconds on the clock, Lincoln's Mfon Ekanem hit 1-of-2 free throws for the final point of the contest.