CHARLOTTE, N.C. –This one's for Sequoyah.
The Shaw University Lady Bears won their third straight CIAA Championship following a 72-53 victory over Fayetteville State in the title game on Saturday night at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The Lady Bears, who lost senior Sequoyah Griffin to a torn ACL in the second-to-last game of the regular season, bonded together to win their last four games fairly decisively on their way to their second three-peat as conference champions and their eighth in the last 11 seasons.
The team dedicated this championship to Griffin, their leader who is out for the remainder of the season and is awaiting knee surgery.
"Once Sequoyah went down, we all knew that we wanted to get the win but we also wanted to do it for her because this is her senior year," said Isayra Diaz. "For her to go down in our last game, it was kind of big so we wanted to play for her. So she was most of our motivation."
The Lady Bears, the No. 2 seed from the Southern Division, had a tough row to hoe when the Tournament began. In order to attain the three-peat, the Lady Bears had to go through Winston-Salem State, Elizabeth City State and Fayetteville State, all teams that Shaw lost to during the regular season.
"I think this one ranks near the top," said Shaw head coach Jacques Curtis, who won his 10th CIAA Championship since coming to Shaw. "This team has been through a lot. We started out with 17 or 18 players and we have 11 now. One of them just went out with an injury in the second to last game of the season and she was a senior, so that was a big hit right there. Everybody on this team has had moments where they have come up big for us. This is big for the seniors to go out as champions."
Griffin's injury was a devastating blow to the Lady Bears. She suffered the injury in the second half of Shaw's 75-65 victory at Fayetteville State on February 20. The injury helped the team gel together because it helped them realize that winning championships involves playing as a team.
"I think a lot of it had to do with not being selfish," said point guard Diamond Mitchell. "We realized at that point that we had to play for each other and not for ourselves. If we didn't have each other, we wouldn't have anybody. I think Sequoyah getting hurt showed us that."
In the championship game, the Lady Bears were led by three players in double figures with Crystal Wilson and Crystal Harris leading the way with 18 points apiece. Taylor Dalrymple chimed in with 16 points and eight rebounds and was named the Most Valuable Player for the Tournament.
The Lady Bears pulled down 48 rebounds compared to 41 for the Lady Broncos, who end their regular season with a 24-5 overall record. Shaw also shot 18-of-22 from the free throw line while Fayetteville State was 10-of-11.
"We knew it was going to be a battle of rebounds and free throws," said Curtis. "When we lost to them the first time, they outrebounded us and shot more free throws than we did. When we played them the second time, we out rebounded them and shot more free throws. So we knew the key to the game had nothing to do with putting the ball in the basket, it had to do with us not putting them on the line as much."
After a three-pointer from Akysia Resper gave the Lady Broncos the early 3-0 lead, the Lady Bears responded with a 6-0 run to take a three-point lead thanks to a layup from Crystal Wilson at the 15:19 mark of the first half.
An off balance jumper from Dalrymple tied the game up at 8, sparking a 10-0 run that helped propel the Lady Bears to an eight-point lead. Kearah Jeffreys buried back-to-back jumpers, with the last one coming with 9:06 left to give Shaw the 16-8 lead.
Resper buried another three-pointer to bring FSU within five at 16-11 with 8:33 left in the period. Dalrymple pushed Shaw's lead back to seven when she drained a jumper.
The Lady Broncos cut it back down to five when Shuanda Ashford drilled a shot from the post to make it 18-13. The Lady Bears answered with a 6-0 run to build a 24-13 lead with 6:01 remaining in the period.
The Lady Broncos responded with a 13-3 scoring spurt over the next five minutes to get back within one thanks to a layup from Je'Lena Robertson, which made it 27-26 at the 1:09 mark.
Harris scored the final three points of the half on a layup and a free throw to give the Lady Bears a 30-26 advantage at halftime.
The Lady Bears opened the second half on a 10-2 run to go up nine. A three-point play the old fashioned way from Crystal Gordon gave the Lady Bears a 37-28 cushion with 16:28 remaining in the game.
After FSU's Tierra Coleman sank a pair of free throws to bring the Lady Broncos within seven, Harris and Wilson scored the next four points for the Lady Bears to increase their lead back to double digits. Wilson snagged down an offensive rebound and hit a jumper with 14:35 remaining to give Shaw a 41-30 lead.
A pair of free throws from Dalrymple gave Shaw another 13-point lead before Shuanda Ashford responded with a layup on the other end to bring the Lady Broncos within 11.
After a three-point play by Wilson and a layup from Harris extended Shaw's lead to 16 at 48-32, the Lady Broncos scored the next six points to get back within 10 after a layup from Kristen Hanzer for her first points of the game, which came at the 10:09 mark.
The Lady Bears answered with an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 18. A steal from Jeffreys and a layup from Mitchell gave Shaw a 56-38 with 8:04 left in the contest.
Person ended a three minute stretch without a field goal when she buried a jumper to bring the Lady Broncos within 16 with 7:05 remaining.
After a layup from Harris increased the Lady Bears' lead to 18 at 58-40, Hanzer brought it back down to 15 with a three-pointer at the 6:19 mark. Thirteen seconds later, David converted a layup to push it back to 17 at 60-43.
The Lady Bears went on a 9-5 run over the next three minutes to build a 21-point lead. Dalrymple's layup at the 2:23 mark made it 69-48.
A three-pointer by Hanzer made it an 18-point game before Harris made it a 20-point margin with a layup with 58 seconds left. Gordon sank 1-of-2 free throws to extend Shaw's lead to 21 with 11 seconds left.
A late bucket from Robertson brought it back down to 19 with one tick left. When the buzzer rang, the Lady Bears celebrated the victory. Some players even picked Griffin up on their shoulders to celebrate.
"The whole time we've been here, she's been nothing but positive," said Dalrymple. "She's been talking to everybody, picking us up and keeping us all together. She's been sending personal messages out to everybody just to keep us all upbeat. She's a leader. She's probably the number one leader in the CIAA."
Fayetteville State was led by Akysia Resper, who finished with a team-high 16 points. Alicia Person added 11 points in the loss. Hanzer, the reigning CIAA Player of the Year was limited to just eight points and was held scoreless until midway through the second half.
"What we got from Shaw is exactly what we expected," said Fayetteville State head coach Eva Patterson-Heath. "I'd like to congratulate them for winning a third CIAA Championship. I put the word 'relentless' on the board at the start of the game and I feel like, at times, it did not apply. We just did not attack, as was demonstrated in 11 attempts at the free throw line."
Joining Dalrymple on the All-Tournament team was Harris, Wilson and Diaz. Hanzer, Resper Ashford and Coleman were also named to the All-Tournament squad for their performances. They were accompanied by Sha'tara Jackson of Elizabeth City State and Ashle Freeman of Virginia Union.
The Lady Bears now await word on their seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Currently, they are ranked seventh in the region and will likely travel to the Erie, PA area where either Gannon or Edinboro will host. Shaw has won the region the last two years when it has been hosted at Edinboro.
article by Ryan Sarda