by Carl Lut Williams
Black College Sports Page
CIAA Player of the Year Kiana Johnson scored a game high 32 points including two big 3-pointers in the final 2:39 as North Division top seed Virginia Union beat back a determined effort to knock off Southern Division top seed Shaw 70-66 in the championship game of the CIAA Women’s Tournament in Charlotte Saturday afternoon.
Johnson needed all 32 of her points to offset a brilliant 29-point, 17-rebound performance from Shaw’s all-CIAA center Eboni Ross who was a force inside hitting on 8 of 12 shots in the paint and 13 of her 15 free throws. VUU all-CIAA forward Lady Walker battled Ross on near even terms dropping 23 points and pulling down a game-high 20 rebounds.
VSU senior center Taylor White also had a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
After trailing most of the first half, Ross’s three-point play in the final half-minute of the second quarter gave Shaw a 30-28 lead at the break. Shaw (24-7) gave up the lead only twice in the second half until just over a minute remained.
That’s when Walker’s tip-in basket on her third try from in close gave VUU a 65-64 lead with 1:04 left. That basket followed a Johnson step-back 3-pointer from the left side that pulled the Lady Panthers within 64-63 with 2:43 to play and began a 10-2 VUU run to close out the game.
Johnson’s second three following the Walker tip-in and came with 27 seconds left from deep on the right side to put the Lady Panthers up 68-64. She talked about taking over late in the game.
“Towards the end of the game, that was on my mind,” said Johnson. “My teammates told me it was my time, so I had no choice, pretty much.
“They (Shaw) gave me daylight, and when they give me daylight I’m going to take the shot,” Johnson said of the pair of threes. “My three was going in all game, so I wasn’t afraid to shoot it. I had confidence taking the shot so I knew it was going in.”
Ross scored on a tip-in with :07 left to pull Shaw within 68-66 before Walker iced it with two free throws for the final margin.
Johnson, who entered the tournament tops in NCAA Div. II scoring at 28.0 points per game. averaged 33.6 points in three tournament games including a 41-point outburst in a semifinal win over Livingstone. In the title game, she shot 11 of 23 from the field including 8 of 14 from behind the arc. Johnson was also good on 32 of 36 free throws. She was the obvious choice for the tournament’s most valuable player award.
Kaula Jackson added 14 points and 8 rebounds for Shaw and Aaliyah Mercer had 10 points off the bench. Ross, Jacks and Tabitha Anderson of Shaw were named to the all-tournament team.
“Shaw came out swinging,” said victorious VUU first-year head coach Ann Marie Gilbert. “They had a great game play for us and we had to weather the storm. We were down at halftime, but we went in, regrouped and came out fighting. They had the heart of a lion in the second half. I’m just so happy that we came out victorious.”
“I believe this was destined to happen. Our kids have worked so hard and everything that we thought would happen this season, the things that we were capable of, we achieved. So, I’m so proud of them.”
Virginia Union, the top seed in the NCAA Div. II Atlantic Region entering the tournament, and Shaw, ranked sixth, are both expected to advance to the Div. II playoffs when the 64-team playoff field is announced next Sunday, March 6. Chowan, who lost to Shaw (86-77) in the semifinals, was ranked seventh in the Feb. 24 regional ranking.
The top eight teams from the region make the playoff field.
CIAA WOMEN’S ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
Amber Curtis, Livingstone
Asha Jordan, Johnson C. Smith
Kiera Colton, Bowie State
Alisha Mobley, Chowan
Kiana Johnson, Virginia Union
Lady Walker, Virginia Union
Rhani Bell, Virginia Union
Tabitha Anderson, Shaw
Kaula Jacks, Shaw
Eboni Ross, Shaw
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Kiana Johnson, Virginia Union