03/01/04 — NCCU falls short of elusive title

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NCCU falls short of elusive title

Published in Sports on March 1, 2004 1:55 PM

RALEIGH -- North Carolina Central came close, so very close to finally achieving something that no NCCU team has accomplished in 54 years; a CIAA Tournament.

But it was not to be.

The Eagles put together a miraculous string of three wins in three consecutive days, but NCCU ran out of gas in the game's 30 seconds against Virginia and lost a tough 80-72 decision in the championship game of the 2004 CIAA Tournament at the RBC Center in Raleigh Saturday night.

The Eagles (16-14) cut Virginia Union's lead to 70-68 on three straight David Young 3-pointers with 1:17 remaining in the game.

On Virginia Union's next possession, Panthers forward Darius Hargrove, killed NCCU's rally by nailing a high-arching jumper just inside the paint with 1:02 left to give Virginia Union a 72-68 advantage.

N.C. Central had one last chance to close the deficit back to two points. But Virginia Union center John Raab blocked a David Young reverse layup. Raab, a 6-foot-11 sophomore, then hustled down the court in the same sequence and finished off the Eagles with a fast break dunk with 42 seconds left.

Despite their gallant effort, the Eagles could get no closer and faded in the final 30 seconds of the game. The loss left a gallant N.C. Central devastated after failing to bring a conference title back to Durham for the first time since 1950.

With the win, Virginia Union picked up its 18th CIAA tournament title, the most ever by a conference school.

Saturday's victory ended a six-year tournament championship drought for Robbins, whose team lost a tough, two-point decision to Bowie State last year.

N.C. Central (16-13) got great performances out of their top players. Senior center Melvin Whitaker ended his career on a good note. The 6-foot-10 former Garner High School star was a force in the paint, registering 20 points, 11 boards and six blocks. Whitaker connected on nine of his 12 shots from the floor.

Virginia Union (25-4) looked as though they would pull away for good after taking a 68-55 lead with 4:09 remaining in the game.

But N.C. Central switched to a full-court press and turned up the heat on the smaller Panthers to climb back into the game.

Eagles senior guard David Young, has he?s done at some part in NCCU?s three previous wins, took over. The Xavier transfer connected on three straight 3-pointers to close the gap to two points. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Young never got another chance to good another shot.

Young scored 18 points for N.C. Central. Johnathan Moore and Curtis Knight added 15 points apiece.

Darius Hargrove led Virginia Union with 23 points and was named tournament most valuable player. Ralph Brown chipped in with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

In the women's final, Shaw University proved to everyone that they were the class of the conference with a 90-65 thumping of Virginia Union to claim their second consecutive CIAA Tournament championship.

The Lady Bears (28-2) trailed early in the first half, but went on a torrid 23-6 run that saw Shaw drop six-3-pointers.

Unlike last year's team, which featured conference player of the year center Naomi Mobley, this Shaw team, ranked seventh nationally, has the sharp shooters to put teams away in a hurry.

Kiarsha Curtis knocked down three treys in Shaw?s run and reserve forward Joy Hairston came off the bench to nail another three shots from long distance to put the game away for good.

Virginia Union (22-5) was forced to pick their poison against the deeper and more athletic Lady Bears. The Lady Panthers simply couldn't keep up against Shaw's offensive onslaught.

Curtis was named the tournament's most valuable player after scorching the Lady Panthers for 22 points on 7-for-9 shooting. Curtis also connected on four of her five 3-point shots.

Shaw must now wait to find out if they will be hosting a first round NCAA Division II tournament game. Curtis said the school would learn of the NCAA's decision on March 7.