WSSU holds on to advance to semifinals

 

CHARLOTTE – Winston-Salem State nearly faltered down the stretch, but the Rams hung on to hold off Virginia Union, 56-55, on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the CIAA Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Winston-Salem State advances to Friday’s semifinal game where it will meet the winner of Shaw/Fayetteville at 9 p.m. The Rams were swept by Shaw (76-60 on Feb. 11 and 80-59 on Feb. 20) and split the season series with Fayetteville State with a 58-54 victory on Jan. 21 and dropped a 64-54 decision nearly a week ago.

“We did a very good job defending tonight,” Winston-Salem State head coach Bobby Collins said. “The game is a game of runs and they made one last run, but we made the last stop. Our defensive stand was the different in the game. I thought they might give up, but they had one more good run in them. Both teams (Shaw and Fayetteville State) like to run in transition. Whichever team wins tonight we will be prepared for.”

Justin Glover led the Rams (19-8) with 14 points, four rebounds and one assist. Chris Witherspoon added 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting as Winston-Salem State, which defeated Virginia Union, 67-66, on Jan. 7, shot 47 percent (22-of-47) from the floor.

“We’ve been waiting for him (Chris Witherspoon) to this all year,” Collins said.

The Rams raced out to an 11-5 lead after a Justin Glover layup with 15:45 remaining in the opening half, but the Panthers quickly responded and used a 14-3 run during six minutes, capped by a Juan Wilson jumper with 9:07 left.

Just as quickly as Virginia Union took the lead, Winston-Salem State answered in a big way. The Rams scored seven of the next nine points as Witherspoon sank a 3-pointer from the right corner to tie the game at 21 with 6:05 remaining.

In the final six minutes of the half, neither team had a lead larger than two points as Witherspoon’s three from the left corner gave the Rams a 30-28 advantage with 1:04 remaining, but Calvin Brown sank a jumper with 39 seconds left as the two teams went into the break tied at 30.

During a seven-minute stretch in the second half, Virginia Union went cold from the floor and Winston-Salem State took advantage.

The Rams took a two-point deficit and turned it into a 13-point lead with a 15-0 run, capped by a Wykevin Bazemore three-point play to give Winston-Salem State a 48-35 advantage with 9:16 left.

Baskets by Wesley Simmons and Marcel Crump cut the Rams lead to 48-39 with 8:23 remaining. Those buckets started a 5-0 spurt to close the gap to 48-42, but back came the Winston-Salem State as Justin Glover and Bazemore scored on back-to-back trips down the floor to push the advantage to 52-42 with a little more than five minutes left.

The Panthers (15-14) climbed out of the big deficit with a 9-0 run, capped by Jamaal Blalock 3-pointer to close the margin to 52-51 with 1:30 remaining. Free throws by Joseph Thompson with 1:07 left gave Winston-Salem State a 54-51 lead, but a putback by Juan Richards with 51 seconds remaining kept the game within reach at 54-53.

A layup by Glover gave the Rams a small cushion at 56-53 with 25 seconds remaining, but again the Panthers refused to give up as Richards scored on a layup and was fouled by Thompson with 10.8 seconds left. He missed a chance at the three-point play.

However, Kimani Hunt was whistled for traveling and turned the ball back over to Virginia Union with 10.4 seconds remaining.

After a timeout by the Panthers, Virginia Union couldn’t get off the potential game-winning shot as Winston-Salem State escaped with the win.

“It’s a heartbreaker,” Virginia Union head coach Luqman Jaaber said. “We felt like we prepared well. We lost a heartbreaker earlier in the season to Winston-Salem State. We came out a little over excited to start the second half. We were rushed and we settled for long jump shots. Once we got down big, we started attacking the basket. We just didn’t contest.”

Richards paced the Panthers with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He also pulled down a game-high eight rebounds and blocked one shot. Simmons, Blalock and Crump each had eight points as Virginia Union was 24-of-57 shooting for 42 percent.

“We fell short of our goal, but it was a good season,” Jaaber said. “We are going to use this season as stepping stone and build toward the future.”