Winston-Salem State is the 2023 CIAA Men’s Basketball Champion after a big second-half run helped No. 5 seed Rams reclaim control and defeat No. 6 seed Lincoln (Pa.) 62-57 in the title game at CFG Bank Arena on Saturday.
The championship is the 13th in the Rams’ storied basketball history, including two under Head Coach Cleo Hill Jr. The win also earned the Rams (21-8 overall) an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II playoffs in the Atlantic Region.
“You cannot come [to Winston-State Salem] and not expect to win division championships and conference championships and advance to the NCAA Tournament,” said Coach Cleo Hill Jr. “It’s just part of the deal when you are a coach here or a player here.”
Led by 14 points from Samage Teel and 11 each from Jaylon Gibson and Jon Hicklin, the Rams staved off a late comeback from a feisty Lincoln team that was making its first appearance in the CIAA Men’s Basketball Championship game.
After falling behind by double digits at halftime, the Lions outscored the Rams 16-5 to knot the score at 34-34 midway in the second half. The Rams were not deterred by the rally as they put together a 17-8 run of their own for a 51-42 lead with 1:29 left.
That run ultimately was the difference, but not before the Lions put another scare in the Rams. Bakir Cleveland made one of two free throws as Lincoln climbed within 56-52 with 34 seconds left.
Korey Williams later connected on a deep three-pointer to cut the deficit even further to 60-57 with one second left but Teel, the hero in the semifinal win over Virginia Union, made both free throws for the final margin.
Jaylen Alston, named Food Lion Tournament MVP, and Xavier Fennell both added eight points for the Rams, who outrebounded the Lions 47-26 including a 16-5 advantage on the offensive boards. Both teams shot 35 percent from the floor, but the Rams made 26 of 43 free throws compared to 14 of 17 for the Lions.
Lincoln placed three scorers in double figures led by 14 points from Reggie Hudson. Williams added 12 points and Freddie Young, Jr. contributed 11 points off the bench for the Lions, who scored 15 points off 20 WSSU turnovers.
The Lions stayed close early, but the Rams scored 12 straight points late in the half to extend a 15-12 lead to 27-12. The Lions sliced the deficit to 11, trailing 29-18 at halftime. Lincoln (PA) continued its run to start the second half as the Lions went on a 16-4 run to pull even at 34-34.
In that run, Reggie Hudson scored 12 straight points before Peter Sorber’s layup tied the game. In the next possession, Jon Hicklin hit a three to regain the lead for Winston-Salem State.
Teel paced the Rams with eight first-half points. Alston and Hicklin each added five points in the period. Winston-Salem State outrebounded Lincoln (PA) 27-12 in the first half, finishing the game with a 47-26 advantage.
The Rams’ trio of Alston, Gibson and Teel were named to the CIAA Men’s All-Tournament Team. Below is the list of All-Tourney players.
Tre Richardson (Elizabeth City State)
Kaleb Coleman (Fayetteville State)
Bakir Cleveland (Lincoln PA)
Reggie Hudson (Lincoln PA)
Jamari Roberts (Shaw)
Robert Osborne (Virginia Union)
Keleaf Tate (Virginia Union)
Jaylen Alston (Winston-Salem State)
Jaylon Gibson (Winston-Salem State)
Samage Teel (Winston-Salem State)
Food Lion Tournament MVP: Jaylen Alston
CIAA Sportsmanship Award: Shaw University