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CIAA Championship Run Begins Thursday For Top Teams

After losing eight in a row to end the regular season, St. Aug has won its first two CIAA Tournament Games. (Winston-Salem Journal photo)

#6 St. Aug vs. #1 Livingstone 

At first glance, this looks like an easy win for Livingstone. Not only does Livingstone enter the tournament as the conference’s best regular season team, it also faces a St. Aug team that has played six games since Feb. 15, including two tournament games against Chowan and Shaw.

While it’s true St. Aug lost its final eight regular season games before picking up those wins, it nearly upset Livingstone a little over a week ago. St. Aug let a big lead slip away and ultimately Livingstone won 90-89 in overtime.

With that said, we’re not picking an upset here. The Blue Bears have arguably the two best scorers in the conference in Mark Thomas (20 ppg) and Jody Hill (19 ppg). In addition to them looking to show that the Falcons near-upset was a fluke, they’ll also be looking to rebound from a loss to Winston-Salem State in the season finale.

Bowie State will start it’s CIAA title defense against Johnson C. Smith Thursday night. (Gazzette.com photo)

#5 Johnson C. Smith v. #1 Bowie State

This game could definitely be a bracket-buster. Johnson C. Smith beat Bowie State in their lone game of the season, which occurred in Charlotte. In fact, Bowie State went just 1-5 against CIAA Southern Division squads this season.

Like St. Aug, Johnson C. Smith has played six games since Valentines Day, not including the extra period between JCSU and WSSU. JCSU has been known to play to the level of its competition, will they have enough left in the tank to pull it out?

Lincoln went 4-2 against CIAA Southern Division opponents in the regular season. (The Lincoln University photo)

#3 Fayetteville State vs. #2 Lincoln 

Lincoln fared better against Southern Division opponents than any of its northern counterparts, and that might serve them well in this tournament. Lincoln beat Fayetteville State in the only meeting of the season back in January. Both teams spent time at the top of their divisions early on before falling short the last couple of weeks.

Something to watch will be how well Lincoln defends FSU’s Tyrrel Tate this time around. The senior from Raleigh put 27 points on LU in the regular season, and almost single-handedly carried his team to victory. Lincoln doesn’t have the size to handle him inside, and if FSU gets anything from anyone else, the Lions could be headed home.

WyKevin Bazemore was one of three WSSU players named to the All-CIAA team. (Garrett Garms/WSSU photo)

#3 Elizabeth City State vs. #2 Winston-Salem State

Thursday evening’s final game is a matchup of two teams that are about as unpredicable as they come. Both teams have lost to bottom-feeder teams and beaten the division champions.

Elizabeth City State is the definition of a streaky team. It has won three-straight games three times, and onlty once all season did at least won loss not follow another. They finished the season strong, however, closing out with a three-game winning streak.

Winston-Salem State is clearly one of, if not the most talented, teams in the conference. WSSU had three players placed on the All-CIAA team (guard Marquez Jones and forwards Preston Ross and WyKevin Bazemore) but still fell short of the Southern Division championship for the second season in a row. The majority of this team wasn’t around last year when WSSU was knocked out in the semifinals, so this will be several players first taste of CIAA Tournament action.

WSSU jumped over a major hurdle when it snapped a four-game losing streak to Livingstone on Saturday. Will that win be the tip of the iceberg or the Rams launching pad to their 12th CIAA Tournament championship? Only time will tell.

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