By Lut Williams
Black College Sports Page
CHARLOTTE, N. C. – South Division top seed Johnson C. Smith took the lead late in the first quarter and never surrendered it as they ran out to a 68-59 win over Virginia State in the women’s championship game of the CIAA Basketball Tournament here Saturday evening.
After trailing most of the first quarter, JCSU (22-7) went up 17-15 on two Asha Jordan free throws with just 12 seconds left in the period. Jordan’s 13 first-half points propelled the hometown Lady Golden Bulls to a 33-25 halftime lead.
Behind all-CIAA guard Nandi Taylor’s 17 first-half points and game-high 28 points, VSU, who came into the tourney as the North’s 3rd seed, stayed close but could not overtake the Golden Bulls. Taylor canned six free throws as the Lady Trojans (22-8) cut a 38-28 third-quarter lead to 39-36 with 4:18 left in the period. That would be as close as VSU would come though they cut the lead to four points three times in the final quarter, the last time at 56-52 on a Taylor layup with 6:18 left.
Reserve freshman guard Malia Rivers canned two big 3-pointers as JCSU finished the game on a 12-7. Rivers finished with 10 points, nine in the final quarter on three buckets from long range. Jordan led the Golden Bulls with 21 points on 7 of 12 shooting from the field and 6 of 7 free throws.
“Like I’ve been saying all year, I think our depth was the difference maker,” said JCSU fourth-year head coach Stephen Joyner, Jr., whose team had a whopping 47-14 advantage in bench points. “I think they (VSU) got tired late in the game.”
JCSU also had a decided 53-32 rebounding and 32-17 points-in-the-paint edge paced by 10 boards each from Kendall Adams and MaryAnna Moore. Adams also scored 9 points. Moore is the only senior that plays significant minutes for the victorious Golden Bulls.
Mia Fitts was the only other VSU player to score in double digits with 10.
JCSU’s 5-10 junior forward Blaire Thomas added 14 points and 9 rebounds on her way to winning MVP honors. Thomas had 4 points and 7 rebounds in JCSU’s 71-59 quarterfinal win over Bowie State and 18 points and 9 rebounds in the 81-75 semifinal win over tournament favorite Virginia Union. As the Golden Bulls’ force in the middle, Thomas averaged 12 points and 8.3 rebounds in the three wins.
Teammates Jordan and Maiya Green joined Thomas on the all-tournament team along with Taylor, Joy Hickman and Endia McKinney of VSU. Virginia Union’s Alexis Johnson and Teira Pendleton and Monique Cheek of Lincoln rounded out the nine-person squad.
“I can honestly say I got a monkey off my back,” said a relieved Joyner who won his first tournament crown. “I can finally say I have something to add to the Joyner legacy.” Joyner Jr.’s father, Stephen Joyner, Sr., is the athletics director at JCSU and head coach of the men’s team who won tournament titles in 2001, 2008 and 2009. The father-son duo is thought to be the first such tandem to win CIAA Tournament titles. Ed Joyner Jr., the coach at Hampton University and first cousin of Joyner Jr., has won three Mid Eastern Athletic Conference tournament titles.
JCSU will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Div. II Atlantic Regional to begin on Thursday, March 9. Virginia Union (23-4), who lost in Friday’s semifinals but has been nationally ranked all season and went into the tournament as the No. 2 seed in the region, will also likely receive a berth in the regional.
Nandi Taylor, Virginia State
Joy Hickman, Virginia State
Endia McKinney, Virginia State
Teira Pendleton, Lincoln
Monique Cheek, Lincoln
Alexus Johnson, Virginia Union
Maya Green, Johnson C. Smith
Blaire Thomas, Johnson C. Smith
Asha Jordan, Johnson C. Smith
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Blaire Thomas, Johnson C. Smith
JOHN C. McLENDON SPORTSMANSHIP AWARD