CHARLOTTE, NC (WSSU Athletics) – Defending champion Virginia State relied on its strengths during the regular season – defense and depth – to stop Winston-Salem State 78-66 in the final CIAA Tournament men’s basketball quarterfinal game at the Spectrum Center on Thursday, Feb. 23.
The Trojans (22-5 overall), seeded second in the Northern Division, meets Fayetteville State in Friday’s semifinal game at 9 p.m. The loss concluded the season for Winston-Salem State (13-14 overall), the No. 3 Southern Division seed.
Ranked first in the CIAA in points allowed, the Trojans limited the Rams to 36.5 percent shooting and forced 17 turnovers to pull away late for the win. The Trojans, who led the entire second half, cemented the victory by hitting six of eight free throw attempts in the final two minutes.
All-CIAA player Elijah Moore, named Food Lion MVP, finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds while All-CIAA teammates Richard Granberry and Kevin Williams scored 13 and 11 points, respectively. Walter Williams chipped in nine points and Cyonte Melvin added eight points as nine players scored for the Trojans, who shot 44.8 percent from the floor and outscored the Rams 28-8 in the paint.
“It was a good victory for us,” Trojans Head Coach Lonnie Blow, Jr. said. “We competed really hard. In the first half, we got in major foul trouble and our bench gave us a lift to keep us going. In the second half, we went back to our man-to-man defense and did a pretty good job.”
CIAA Rookie of the Year Robert Colon of the Rams led all scorers with 21 points but was held to seven points in the second half. T.J. Wilson scored 12 points while Ameer Jackson and Carlos Rankins scored nine points apiece.
The Rams rank second in the CIAA in points scored as they average close to 80 points a game. But they were held to less than 70 points for the second time this season by a tenacious Trojans defense.
“[The Trojans] are No. 1 in the league in points allowed and they showed that tonight,” Rams Head Coach James Wilhelmi said. “We usually handle the ball pretty well but they forced us into quite a few turnovers tonight. They are an outstanding team. They have a lot of pieces back from last year.”
The Trojans depth wore down the Rams late as they went on a 20-10 run to increase their four-point lead to 68-54 with 3:53 remaining in the game. Seven Trojans scored during the spurt including Ken Woodward who had five points. The Rams cut their deficit to 74-66 with on a three-pointer by Carlos Rankins but the Trojans kept their opponent at bay in the final 1:30 of the contest.
Moore scored 11 points in the first half while the trio of Melvin, Grandberry and Walter Williams each added six points for the Trojans, who shot 51.7 percent in the first 20 minutes. With the score tied 27-27, the Trojans built a 38-30 lead on Brice Rowe’s three-pointer but Colon buried two three-pointers in the final 38 seconds to pull the Rams within 41-36 at the half. Colon pumped in 14 points in the first half including 3 of 6 three-point attempts.