BALTIMORE, MD — Winston-Salem State finally got the Claflin Tiger off its back on Thursday night at the CIAA Tournament — only to have to deal with the Virginia Union Panthers on Friday at high noon.
WSSU pounded the glass and dominated the paint in a 60-52 win over Claflin in the CIAA Tournament quarterfinals. The win was the first in three tries for WSSU against Claflin, who ended it’s 2023 season 19-7.
Jaylen Alston led WSSU with 16 points and 11 rebounds to go along with four steals in the win. Six of those rebounds were on the offensive end.
“Determination and resilience was very good by the whole team, definitely,” Alston said. “And I feel like just me being a leader on this team, I like to show by example and give everybody a example what we should be doing. And I feel like rubs off and that DNA of being that team that will go for everything.”
The Rams also got a double-figure effort from center Jaylon Gibson (12 points and seven rebounds) as well as guards Issac Parson and Samage Teel, who finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
“I think all year they’ve they’ve earned my trust in certain situations,” head coach Cleo Hill said after the game. “And I think tonight it wasn’t a lot of play calling it was more spreading the floor drive and kick and getting the ball in to, you know, either Jaylon Gibson or Jaylen Alston and I think that’s part of what got us a win tonight.”
Daijohn Stewart (17 points) and Shyim Cunningham (12 points) were the only double-figure scorers for Claflin.
The game ended around 10:30 P.M. on Thursday night, which usually gives teams a little over 20 hours to prepare for the next game. However, the CIAA decided to change the order of the start times for Friday’s semifinal games, meaning WSSU will have less than 14 hours before playing Virginia Union.
VUU, ranked fifth in the Atlantic Region, has owned WSSU as of late. WSSU dropped the lone game between the two programs in December after losing three times during the 2021-2022 season — including last season’s CIAA Tournament semifinals.
Despite the streak and the time crunch, Cleo Hill Jr. isn’t crying over lost time.
“There’s some things that we have seen over the last two games, specifically the one in Winston-Salem, that we will we will try to exploit tomorrow,” he said. “But I think getting rest tonight, talking about the scout, talking about the gameplan in the later tonight and early in the morning — and we just have to throw the balls out there and see. We feel like we’re we’re playing very well on both ends of the floor. And I know they’ll be prepared, but we will be prepared also.”