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N.C. Central Ladies, ECSU Men Take CIAA Crowns
CHARLOTTE — For the men’s and women’s basketball teams of Elizabeth City State University, it’s been a tale of two entirely different seasons. The second-seeded women came into the CIAA Tournament poised, confident, and expected to make the finals.
The seventh-seeded men came in with a losing record, struggled all season, and were hoping just to play well and see what happens. Ironically, it was the men who kept their poise and seemed relaxed enroute to their first trip to the finals since 1999
The Lady Vikings seemed to panic a little, but they had enough toughness and talent to hold on as they reached the finals as well. It’s the second time in the last three seasons that the Lady Vikings had reached the CIAA Finals.
This is also the first time in ECSU’s history that both the men and women had made it to the tournament finals in the same year. However, it was a bittersweet finale.
For the ECSU ladies, it was never a close game as they were soundly defeated by the departing Lady Eagles of North Carolina Central. As for the men, they finished off an incredible and magical ride with a huge upset over the three-time defending champion Panthers of Virginia Union.
The Lady Vikings suffered defeat largely because of poor defense and too much of Laquanda Williams and Tournament MVP Cassie King. The Lady Vikings traded baskets with the Lady Eagles early but the Lady Eagles begin to pull away.
With the score tied 6-6, the Lady Eagles went on a 16-0 run that proved to be the difference in the game. Thanks to the efforts of Williams (23 points, eight rebounds) and King (25 points,10 rebounds), N.C. Central defeated ECSU 89-72 in the Women’s Championship Game.
After a quick 7-0 run by ECSU made the score 22-13, NCCU stepped up their defensive pressure causing turnovers that led to easy fast break points and led to a large lead of 16 with just over three minutes remaining in the first half.
The Lady Eagles extended their lead to as much as 22 after an easy layup by Williams made the score 44-22 with 1:51 remaining in the opening half. The half finished with both teams trading baskets and the halftime score was 49-27. Williams and King combined for 30 of NCCU’s 49 points as they outrebounded them 28-23.
In the second half, ECSU tried desperately to cut the deficit down to under 10 points but were unsuccessful. NCCU quickly scored seven of the first eight points to take a commanding 56-28 lead with 18:08 remaining.
NCCU had their largest lead after a basket by Jasmine Newkirk making the score 65-38 with 14:22 remaining in the game. ECSU’s Celeste Trahan, semi-final MVP Deanna Price and Ashley Bowman tried desperately to bring the Lady Vikings back within striking distance, but the whole was too deep to climb out of.
After a layup by Trahan cut the deficit down to 20 points, the Lady Eagles once again stepped up their defensive intensity and pulled away for good scoring 11 of he next 15 points and making the score 82-57 with just under six minutes remaining.
With the win, the Lady Eagles won their second CIAA Women’s Title in school history and finished their season with an impressive 25-5 record. The Lady Vikings had a great season but fell short and finished with a 21-9 record.
ECSU was led by Trahan’s game high 28 points, eight rebounds and five blocks although 24 of her 28 points came in the second half when the game was out of reach. Price added 17 points, four board, two assists, and two steals. Bowman added 15 points, six rebounds and four steals.
It was a fitting way for N.C. Central University to exit the CIAA and head into the MEAC with Championships in Football (for the second year in a row), women’s basketball and even baseball.
The men of ECSU played yet another nail-biter in their quest to achieve the improbable. Poise, confidence, determination and composure along with great play from C.J Pigford and Anthony Hillard led to ECSU to its 63-60 stunner of Virginia Union.
From the opening tip-off, both teams played an exciting up-tempo fast-paced game with lots of athleticism and scoring. The Panthers took an early lead and held it until the 12 minute mark when Jaybron Wilson made a layup inside and gave the Vikings their first lead of the game 12-11.
After both teams scored a couple of baskets, the Vikings surged ahead a bit taking a 6 point lead after a Pigford knocked down a 3 pointer making the score 20-14 ECSUwith 9:57 remaining in the first half.
The Panthers rallied back and took the lead once again after a 10-0 run gave them a 24-20 lead with exactly six minutes remaining in the half. Again, both teams traded baskets for the remainder of the half and the Panthers took a slim lead into the locker rooms 34-31.
The second half saw ECSU come out strong, going on a 8-0 run and taking their biggest lead of the game 39-34 with plenty of time left in the game. The Vikings increase their lead to 6 after a 3 pointer by C.J. Pigford making the score 48-42 with 8:40 left in the game.
VUU cut the deficit down to one point after a three-point play by Chris Greene making the score 54-53 ECSU. The Panthers answered when Steve Miller converted one of two free throws, however they had a slim 58-57 lead with 2:38 remaining. It would be their final lead of the game.
The Panthers seemed to be tired and bothered by the Vikings defensive pressure and intensity as they were out-scored and rebound over the last two minutes thanks in part to Tournament MVP Anthony Hillard’s six points and three rebounds in the final stretch.
With the win, ECSU takes home their fourth CIAA Men’s Championship and their first since 1981. This is also the first for head coach Shawn Walker who played and graduated from ECSU and no one is more thrilled to see the team win the big game.
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have good players,” said Walker.