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By Lut Williams
Black College Sports Page

CHARLOTTE, NC – The final CIAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in Charlotte after a 15-year stay turned out to be a thriller as Winston-Salem State stormed back late to knock off Fayetteville State, 63-62 before a packed house at the Spectrum Center.ciaa trn20 logo

All-CIAA guard Robert Colon canned all three free throws after he was fouled behind the arc with 4.6 seconds left to give the Rams the win. The clutch free throws capped a 25-point performance by the senior and gave the Rams their first tournament title since 2012 and first leading the Rams for second-year head coach Cleo Hill, Jr.

Colon’s free throws were the final act of a drama that saw WSSU (19-10) storm back from a 59-48 deficit and outscore the Broncos 15-3 over the final 4:23 to pull out the win. FSU, meanwhile, was on the receiving end of some questionable calls and unfortunate play down the stretch.

Colon and Hill Jr. thus add their names to a list of WSSU greats that includes playing legends Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Cleo Hill, the latter the father of the WSSU head coach. Monroe, who spoke to the team by phone before the championship game, and the late Hill are 1-2 in WSSU career scoring. Colon is now seventh on the school’s scoring list.

“He gave us some wise words going into the game,’ said Tournament Most Valuable Player Colon of the advice from Monroe.

Hill Jr. joins late college basketball coaching legend Clarence “Big House” Gaines who coached WSSU to nine CIAA Tournament titles and a then-record 828 career wins over his legendary career (1946-93). In a related note, Gaines coached WSSU in 1960 and Hill was the MVP in Greensboro (N. C.) when the Rams won the league’s tourney title, 60 years before the younger Hill claimed this year’s crown.

“Talk about full circle,” said Hill Jr. when told of the historic accomplishment.

WSSU, the tournament’s second seed from the South Division, began the final run when Xavier Fennell scored on a layup and was fouled with 3:41 to play. He missed the ensuing free throw but grabbed the rebound and fed Jonathan Hicklin who canned a 3-pointer to cut the FSU lead to 59-53 at the 3:29 mark. The five-point swing was key to the WSSU comeback.

FSU’s Jalen Seagers canned one of two free throws before Colon fought through traffic to score on a layup and pull the Rams within 60-55 with 2:32 on the clock.

Two FSU misses later at the 1:49 mark, WSSU’s Jaylen Alston rebounded a Colon miss in close and scored on the putback and WSSU trailed just 60-57. After a timeout, FSU (24-8), the third seed from the South, got its only basket of the final stretch on a layup by Darrion Dixon to lead 62-57.

Colon again fought through traffic to score on a layup to cut the lead to 62-59 with a minute left, setting up the final heroics. FSU point guard Jalen Spicer missed a jumper but center Will Brown grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled with 31 ticks left. The usually reliable Brown had his charity toss go in and out. WSSU rebounded and Colon was fouled by Isaiah Vinson on a controversial call while bringing the ball upcout. Colon canned one of his two free throws to bring the Rams within 62-60 with just :17 seconds left.

After a Bowie State timeout, WSSU, needing to foul, double-teamed Seagers. But rather than call what appeared to be an obvious foul, the referees called a held ball, giving the ball back to WSSU with :12 seconds left.

WSSU inbounded the ball to Colon who was fouled on a 3-point attempt by FSU’s Denzel Hosch with just over four ticks left. He rattled in the first free throw before draining the second to tie the score at 62. FSU called another timeout but after the break, Colon swished the third to put WSSU up for the first time in the second half.

After a timeout, BSU inbounded the ball to point guard Jalen Spicer who dribbled into the frontcourt before unleashing a 30-footer at the final buzzer that did not connect.

Fennell’s 11 points and ten by Hicklin gave the Rams three players in double figures. Hosch had 13 points and Seagers ten to lead the Broncos. Brown had seven points and a game-high 14 rebounds. WSSU’s Alston and FSU’s Brown, Hosch and Spicer joined Colon on the all-tournament team.

With the tournament title, WSSU will receive the league’s automatic berth into the Atlantic Region of the NCAA Div. II championship tournament when the field is announced next week (March 8). Virginia State (19-9), who entered the tournament as the North Division’s top seed and ranked sixth in the region, is the only other team likely to get a bid.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Robert Colon

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
Donte Edwards, St. Augustine’s
Cornelius Reynolds, Claflin
Roger Ray, Livingstone
Donell Frayer Jr., Claflin
Cayse Minor, Johnson C. Smith
Will Brown, Fayetteville State
Jaylen Alston, Winston-Salem State
Denzel Hosch, Fayetteville State
Jaylen Spicer, Fayetteville State
Robert Colon, Winston-Salem State

SPORTSMANSHIP TROPHY
Johnson C. Smith

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