CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Winston-Salem State University Rams clawed their way back from a 16-point deficit to secure a spot in Saturday’s CIAA Championship game with a 78-71 win over Johnson C. Smith University. The Rams are slated to take on the Livingstone College Blue Bears in an 8:30 p.m. contest in Time Warner Cable Arena.
Winston-Salem State Head Coach Bobby Collins commented, “Tonight… was more like a prize fight. We wanted to see what they had in the tank. They came out and hit some shots early and took a lead, but obviously it wasn’t enough…the outcome of the game tonight was a result of our brothership and it shows how close we really are.”
The Golden Bulls end their season with an 18-12 record and saw a three-game win streak in the CIAA Tournament come to an end. Steven Joyner, Sr., head coach of Johnson C. Smith noted, “Let me start out by congratulating Winston-Salem State. They could have folded after the first half…but they recognized what our strengths were and just physically handled us. We didn’t have our legs and they dominated the second half. I’m very pleased with our effort, but we just fell short.”
Marquez Jones had a monster night for the Rams, scoring 29 points in the win. Preston Ross and Tyre Desmore added 16 and 14 points, respectively. Emilio Parks led the effort for the Golden Bulls with 22 points. Antwan Wilkerson added 16 points while Robert Williams notched 12 points in the loss.
Parks scored first in the contest with a jumper for Johnson C. Smith University. Brian Okam answered with a dunk on the next possession, but a three-pointer by Joshua Linson gave the Golden Bulls a 5-2 lead with 17:22 on the clock. Johnson C. Smith built their lead to nine points (18-9) with 13:12 on the clock after a three-pointer by Antwan Wilkerson. A 7-2 run by the Rams made the score 20-16 with 11:18 left to play and cut Winston-Salem State’s deficit to four points.
The Golden Bulls and Rams traded baskets as the minutes ticked away in the first half, but Johnson C. Smith maintained control of the momentum and the score. With 6:34 left in the half and trailing 29-23, Winston-Salem State used a 5-0 run to make it a one point game. Johnson C. Smith took over from there, orchestrating an 8-2 run to pull away 37-30 with 1:53 left in the half. Wilkerson completed the three point play and Robert Williams drained a three pointer for a 43-32 advantage. Desmore made a jumper for Winston-Salem State but the Golden Bulls headed into half-time with a 43-34 lead.
A dunk by Williams at the 17:16 mark in the second half gave the Golden Bulls a 10-point lead (47-37). Winston-Salem State fought to stay on Johnson C. Smith’s heels, but fell behind by as many as 16 points (59-43) after a dunk by Alandre Davis with 10:42 left in the game. Slowly but surely Winston-Salem State worked their way back into the game. Beginning at the 12:41 mark, the Rams outscored the Golden Bulls 28-9 enroute to the win. The Rams chipped away at the deficit, holding the Golden Bulls scoreless as they strung together seven unanswered points to make the score 59-50 with 9:29 remaining.
A dunk by Wilkerson on the next possession put the Golden Bulls ahead by 11 points, but a three-pointer by Javan Wells and a bucket by Ross put the Rams right back in the game. With Johnson C. Smith leading 63-55 with 8:06 left in the contest, a layup by Jones fueled an 8-1 run and left the Golden Bulls gripping to a one-point lead.
Parks drained two free-throws with 5:05 left in the game, but Jones nailed back-to-back three-pointers to give Winston-Salem State a 69-66 advantage and the momentum from a packed arena with 3:39 on the clock. A Golden Bulls turnover led to another score for the Rams thanks to a bucket by Ross. Ross tacked on two free-throws for Winston-Salem to extend the Rams’ lead to 73-66 with just 2:38 left in the contest.
With Winston-Salem State leading 73-67, the Rams added four points using free throws from Wells and Jones to gain a 10-point cushion (77-67) with 34 seconds left to play.
The teams exchanged free-throws and Davis added a jumper for the Golden Bulls with three seconds on the clock but Winston-Salem State walked away with the 78-71 semi-final victory. The Rams advance to take on Livingstone College today, a team that has never won the CIAA Tournament. Winston-Salem State has 11 CIAA Tournament titles in the history of the men’s basketball program.