Winston-Salem State University, No. 5 seed, defeated No. 6 seed Lincoln University 62-57 in the 2023 CIAA Tournament final in Baltimore. (Courtesy of Joe Daniels)
Winston-Salem State University, No. 5 seed, defeated No. 6 seed Lincoln University 62-57 in the 2023 CIAA Tournament final in Baltimore. (Courtesy of Joe Daniels)

Relying on a strong tradition from the past, the Winston-Salem State University team outlasted Lincoln University 63-57, while the Elizabeth City State University turned disappointment into redemption with a convincing 55-40 win over Shaw University for the school’s first-ever title. The games were played at the CFG Bank Arena. With these victories, both teams received automatic bids to the NCAA Division II playoffs in the Atlantic Region.

The Rams (21-8) captured their 13th CIAA title and second in the past three years under head coach Cleo Hill Jr. Hill follows the strong foundation laid by the late, legendary Clarence “Big House” Gaines, who led the program to an NCAA Division II championship. A decorated member of the team under Gaines was Hall of Famer Earl “The Pearl” Monroe.

“Well, you can’t be at Winston-Salem State without expectations,” Hill said with a grin. “You can’t come here and not expect to win division championships and conference championships and advance to the NCAA tournament. It is just part of the deal when you’re a coach here or you’re a player here.”

WSSU, which won the three games in the tournament by holding their opponents to 51 points nearly missed the championship when it trailed top seed and favored Virginia Union, 44-43 with seconds remaining, but as destiny and tradition would have it, Samage Teel knocked down the game-winner and helped his team advance to the championship.

In the Lincoln game, the Rams opened a 29-18 lead at halftime. But the Lions (17-14) refused to go away and battled their way back to 61-57. But down the stretch, WSSU’s resiliency proved to be the difference. Teel led the balanced attack with 14 points while Jonatha Hicklin and Jaylon Gibson tallied 11 points each. Jaylen Alston was named Tournament MVP.

The Lions were led by Reggie Hudson (14), Korey Williams (12 points) and Freddie Young, Jr. (11 points).

Elizabeth City State University (ESCU) (20-10) used last year’s disappointing 53-52 loss to Lincoln

in the finals as their motivation going into the season. Having been just at the doorstep of victory, the Vikings wanted to ensure that they came away with the title that escaped them. Yet, it was not easy. Similar to their counterparts on the men’s side, ECSU had to hold off Johnson C. Smith, 53-52 in the semifinal round.

The Vikings had lost earlier this month to the Bears, so it was essentially a rematch. The game started out with both teams imposing their strength, their defense which ranked Numbers 1 and 2 in the CIAA during the season. The Vikings were able to take a 10-6 lead in the first 10 minutes.

Then the Vikings began to flex and essentially put the game away by halftime with a 22-6 second-quarter explosion. ECSU, which used its superior depth of 12 players getting meaningful minutes, wore down Shaw (18-14), which like the Vikings were playing their fourth game in five days.

The Vikings dominated the glass (40-25) and limited their opponent to 22 percent shooting including zero for nine from beyond the arc.

Dy’Jhanik led all scorers with 13, Maryan Hashim contributed 10 and five players scored seven or more points. Myasia Blango was named Tournament MVP.

Shaw, which failed to place any player in double figures, was led by Brittney Seymour with nine points.

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