Virginia State is heading back to the NCAA tournament.
The Trojans (27-4) defeated Shaw (17-13) 77-66 in the CIAA tournament final. Coach Lonnie Blow won his second conference championship with the Trojans, having previously won the title with Saint Augustine’s.
“You always want to win championships, but I wanted it for these guys—all the hard work they put in,” Blow said. “I told them throughout the year, ‘winning the CIAA championship changes your life. You’re a champion for life after that.’ Just the feeling you get from winning it, because it’s a big deal.”
Shaw junior guard Amir Hinton led all scorers with 34 points, and three Bears scored in double digits, accounting for all but three points. Virginia State had better ball distribution, with four players scoring 10-plus points, and seven players making it onto the score sheet. Senior forward Jahmere Howze scored a team-high 28 points. He added 12 boards.
“We’ve really been trying to execute our team defense, being in gaps, being there to help,” said senior guard Cedric Wiggins, a transfer from North Carolina Central. “Just playing team defense—making sure we’re closing out every single person who is a shooter, knowing our personnel. We’ve been getting better with that.”
Said Blow: “[Wiggins] has been huge. He set the tempo for us all year long. We wanted to play a faster tempo and get up and down the floor in transition. He’s really come in and picked up the offense.”
While Virginia Union knocked the Trojans out of last year’s tournament in the semifinals, they secured an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, where they knocked the Panthers out in the first round. However, the Trojans did not advance beyond the second round.
“It’s always good to go in [the postseason] with this conference championship behind you,” Blow said. “Our conference is really tough from top to bottom every year. To come in, winning the tournament, and being champions kind of gives you that little extra boost. It gives you a little momentum going into the NCAA tournament as well. We’re happy to have that. We’ve got a lot of work to do to prepare for the NCAA tournament, but we’re excited, and we’re happy about winning the championship.”