CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Robert Colon scored 19 points and Jaylen Alston added 11 points and 12 rebounds as Winston-Salem State prevailed over Claflin 58-56 in a CIAA Tournament men’s basketball semifinal game at the Spectrum Center on Friday.
The Rams (18-10 overall) will meet Fayetteville State in the championship game on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. This is the first title game appearance in five years for the Rams, a traditional CIAA power who has captured 11 conference championships. Claflin’s season ended at 14-16 overall.
Colon helped the Rams erase a 27-25 halftime lead with two three-pointers in the second half. Justice Kithcart added another three for a 44-35 lead near the midway point.
But Brandon Davis scored six straight points to pull Claflin within 55-54 with 47 seconds left after the Rams led by seven with two minutes to go. Cornellius Reynolds’ steal and layup put the Panthers ahead 56-55 seconds later.
The Rams regained the lead at 57-56 on two Colon free throws after Reynolds was called for a block on the inbounds play. After a Claflin turnover, Kitchcart extended the Rams’ lead to 58-56 after hitting one of two free throws.
Claflin still had a chance to tie or take the lead, but Mykal Johnson missed a floater in the lane. The Rams’ Xavier Fennell was fouled after grabbing the rebound but he missed both free throws with three seconds left.
Claflin’s desperation three-point attempt was off the mark, however.
“We executed when we needed to and played some tough, tough defense,” said WSSU Head Coach Cleo Hill, Jr., whose Rams are one of the top defensive teams nationally in Division II.”
Kithcart added eight points and six rebounds for the Rams, the No. 2 Southern Division seed.
Reynolds paced the Panthers, the No. 4 Southern Division seed, with a double-double of 18 points and 16 rebounds in addition to two steals. Davis finished with 12 points for the Panthers, who were trying to reach the finals in only their second season in the CIAA.
“I am real proud of my guys and the effort they put out,” Claflin Head Coach Ricky Jackson said. “My assistant reminded me that this is the first team to win a CIAA game and the first team to reach the semifinals. They will look back on that, and will appreciate it.”
The Rams trailed by eight late in the first half but outscored the Panthers 8-2 in the last two minutes to pull within two at halftime. Colon drained a three-pointer at the end of the half, and the Rams’ momentum carried over in the second half.
“[Claflin] had the momentum throughout the whole first half,” Hill said. “We came into halftime thinking this is the worst first half we have played but we were only down two. I thought we were just flat whole half. That was the biggest thing, if we could just get our energy up in the second half, we figured at some point Colon would put his stamp on the game.”