By Lut Williams
Black College Sports Page
Virginia Union ran out to a 36-28 halftime lead and stretched that lead to as much as 32 points before settling for a 82-52 blowout win over Johnson C. Smith in the CIAA men’s tournament championship game Saturday night at the Spectrum Center.
VUU, a 3rd-seed from the North Division, was this year’s giant killer knocking off South Division 2nd- seed Shaw in the quarterfinals and N. Div. top seed Virginia State in the semis en route to the crown.
JCSU (20-11) was the top seed from the South Division.
The Panthers (18-14) had four of its five starters score in double digits led by senior forward Todd Hughes with 22 points. Andre Walker had 19, William Jenkins 16 and Kory Cooley, named the tournament’s most valuable player, added 13 including a perfect 3 of 3 from long range.
Jenkins and Walker led VUU off the boards with 11 rebounds while Walker added four blocks.
It’s the first conference tournament title for the Panthers since 2006 and the first since the retirement of legendary coach Dave Robbins in 2008. Robbins won 14 CIAA tournament championships and three NCAA Div. II championships during his storied 30-year career.
The title also gave VUU a rare double as the Lady Panthers of Virginia Union defeated Bowie State earlier in the day for the women’s championship. It’s the first time a program has swept both titles since Shaw pulled off the feat in 2011.
Panthers’ third-year head coach Jay Butler, a former player under Robbins and a freshman member of Robbins’ 1992 national championship team that featured future NBA great Ben Wallace, guided VUU to the title. He now has won CIAA tournament titles as a player and a coach.
“It’s not even close,” Butler said of the difference in winning as a player and a coach. “As a player, we were so talented and dominant that the expectation was – let’s show up on Saturday night and win. Playing for coach Robbins, we were pretty good.
“So just to have these young men, 15 to 16 guys, and kind of mold them into buying into the system, I gave them some tough love. It was hard on them, but it paid off. “
Butler employed many of the same tactics used by Robbins including a stifling 2-3 zone defense that limited JCSU to 31.7% (19 of 50) shooting on the night , just 8 for 30 (26.7%) in the second half.
In contrast, VUU repeatedly penetrated and fed for easy baskets, shooting 50% (28 of 56) from the field, a scorching 59.3% (16 of 27) in the second half. The Panthers also shot an efficient 67.9% (19 of 28) from the line while JCSU struggled making just 9 of 17 (52.9%).
J. C. Smith point guard Christian Kirchman led the Golden Bulls with 12 points. He was the only JCSU player to score in double figures.
With the championship, VUU earns the conference’s automatic berth to the Atlantic Region playoffs in the NCAA Div. II national tournament which will begin next week.
ALL TOURNAMENT TEAM
Richard Granberry, Virginia State; Omari George, Bowie State; Todd Hughes, Virginia Union; Roddric Ross, Johnson C. Smith; Kory Cooley, Virginia Union; Robert Davis III, Johnson C. Smith; Cameron Burhannon, Livingstone; Jonathan Curtis, Johnson C. Smith; Willie Gilmore, Fayetteville State; Quincy January, St. Augustine’s
JOHN C. McLENDON SPORTSMANSHIP AWARD
NOTES: Virginia State (24-4), the NCAA Div. II Atlantic Region’s top seed going into the CIAA Tournament, is assured of one of eight spots in the region’s playoff field and has made a bid to host the regional. The NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Committee is set to announce the 64-team field for the 2018 NCAA DII Men's Basketball Championship at 10:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, March 4.
• Cooley scored in double figures in all four VUU tournament wins and averaged 18.5 points per game. He had 29 points in VUU’s 67-52 win over Virginia State in Friday’s semis, 16 in the 70-68 win over Shaw in Thursday’s quarterfinals and 16 Tuesday in an 86-72 opening round win over Winston-Salem State.