Virginia Union used a late 10-2 fourth quarter rally to down Shaw 70-66 to win their second title in program history and their first CIAA title since 1982 (a span of 34 years).
Virginia Union (25-2) held Shaw (24-7) in check for the final 3:30 of the contest, thanks to the Panther duo of Kiana Johnson and Lady Walker, who contributed all 10 VUU points on the championship-clinching run.
As a team, Virginia Union shot 34.6% (27-78) from the field and 28.1% (9-32) from three point range. Shaw returned a 32.4% (22-68) shooting percentage and the normally reliable Bears managed only a 15.0% (2-20) outing from long range.
Northern Division top seeded Virginia Union wasted no time in solidifying the early first quarter lead, as they vaulted to the early 10-3 lead capped by a Taylor White jumper. Shaw quickly erased the seven point deficit when Eboni Ross and Kaula Jacks scored on consecutive possessions to draw even at 10-10 at the 3:03 mark. Over the final stages of the first quarter, Shaw was able to take the 11-10 lead after a Tabatha Anderson free throw, but VUU’s Kiana Johnson regained the lead for the Panthers at 13-11 when she cashed in from long range.
In the second quarter, the teams battled through three lead changes as neither team could pull away. Virginia Union gained a three point advantage at the 8:01 mark when Kiana Johnson nailed a three-pointer, but Shaw’s Fantasha Tyson equaled that shot with one of her own with 6:18 left to again tie the score at 21-21. VUU would then take the lead on a Taylor White free throw and would made it a three point game at 26-23 when Johnson connected for another basket with 3:04 to play.
Shaw’s Kaula Jacks would pull the Bears to within one (28-27) after a jumper at 2:08. After forcing a VUU turnover, Eboni Ross gave Shaw the 29-28 lead after a layup with 25 seconds left and was fouled on the play by Lady Walker. Ross would hit the free throw to extend Shaw’s lead to 30-28, a mark that they would take into the halftime break, as Virginia Union could not get another shot off in the half.
After Ross extended the Shaw lead to 31-28 on a free throw at the start of the third quarter, the Panthers’ Johnson would connect from long range to tie it once again, this time at 31-31.
Tied at 41-41 at the 4:52 mark, Shaw would go on a 6-0 run over the next 1:40 to take a 47-41 lead after Aaliyah Mercer converted a free throw. Virginia Union again made a big play, this time from Lady Walker, as she cut the Bear lead to 47-44, after knocking down a layup while getting fouled, and she added the free throw for the three-point play.
After a Shaw free throw on the other end, Kiana Johnson launched a deep three pointer that again trimmed the Bears’ lead to 47-48 with 2:34 to play. Shaw again pushed the ball inside, earning a foul and Eboni Ross canned both free throws to go up 50-47. Following the free throws, Virginia Union connected from deep again, this time from Zana Godoy, tying the game again, at 50-50. Shaw would then get baskets from Jacks and Ross to close the quarter, with the Bears holding the 54-52 advantage.
Shaw kept the Panthers at bay through much of the fourth quarter, as they matched Virginia Union basket by basket until Kiana Johnson dropped in a three pointer at the 2:43 mark and was fouled. Her free throw rimmed out and Shaw clinged to the 64-63 lead. Following a media timeout with 2:30 to go, the Panthers turned it over with 1:43 left, giving Shaw a chance to extend their lead. After a missed three-pointer and an official’s review, Virginia Union retained possession and Lady Walker gave VUU the 65-64 lead in traffic with 1:04 remaining.
In the midst of VUU pressure, they forced a turnover and foul with 50.3 left. CIAA Player of the Year Kiana Johnson splashed a huge three-pointer that gave VUU the 68-64 lead. Shaw then was able to get a layup from Eboni Ross to trim the lead to 68-66 with 7.0 seconds remaining. After the Bears called timeout, Virginia Union called timeout to set up their offense. After two Shaw fouls that put VUU in the bonus, Lady Walker stepped to the line and calmly hit both shots to make it 70-66, still with 7.0 seconds to play.
Following a full timeout by Shaw, the Bears three point attempt was short and VUU secured the rebound to earn their second CIAA Championship.
VUU’s Kiana Johnson was named Tournament MVP while teammates Rahni Bell and Lady Walker earned All-Tournament honors. Shaw’s Kaula Jacks, Eboni Ross, and Tabatha Anderson also received All-tournament plaudits.
With the win Virginia Union earns the CIAA’s automatic bid to the 2016 NCAA Division II Tournament. The official brackets will be unveiled on March 6 at 10:00 p.m. during the selection show at NCAA.com.
The 25 wins are the second-most for a women’s team in VUU history. Only the 1983 team, which won 27 games, had more wins in a single season.
Courtesy: VUU Athletics