In a weekend parade of celebrities, Virginia Union’s diminutive guard Kiana Johnson proved to be a giant among stars — rapper T.I. and singer Lyfe Jennings included.
Johnson, the leading candidate for Division II Player of the year, scored 32 points in leading the Panthers (25-2) to the CIAA Women’s Championship with a dramatic 70-66 victory over the Shaw Bears at Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena.
Shaw (24-7), which in the recent past had won nine CIAA Women’s Championships in 12 years, looked like it would pull the upset over Johnson and the favored Panthers.
The Bears led 64-60 after a basket by senior center Eboni Ross with 3:30 to play, but Virginia Union tightened its defense and got two 3-point baskets by Johnson down the stretch.
The last 3-pointer came with 27 seconds left to put VU up 68-64, coming after junior forward Lady Walker gave the Panthers the lead for good, 65-64, with a layup and 1:04 to play.
Virginia Union advances to the Division II tournament, while Shaw will likely receive an at-large bid.
Johnson, the Division II national scoring leader and CIAA Player of the Year, added CIAA Tournament MVP to her trophy case, with outings of 28 points and 42 points before Saturday’s final.
The men’s game ended in less dramatic fashion, with Virginia State (23-5) leading nearly the entire contest with an 89-79 victory to end the Cinderella run of Livingstone (15-17), which had won the past two tournaments. Livingstone outscored Virginia State from the bench 55-19, but gave up control of the game in the second half giving up 12 consecutive points.
The Trojans were led by senior guard Javon Moore with 30 points and nine rebounds, and Kevin Williams, who added 24 points and six rebounds to sew up the Men’s CIAA Tournament MVP award.
The Trojans’ next stop will be the Men’s Division II Tournament.
THE CIAA WEEKEND
With the men’s final never in doubt, the highlight of the evening session was a halftime performance by crooner Lyfe Jennings, whose center-court appearance was projected on the arena’s huge video screen, creating an up close and personal feeling for fans.
It was that kind of week at the tournament’s 71st annual run, with actors and entertainers hosting and appearing at parties and activities throughout Charlotte.
Earlier on Saturday, stirring R&B selections by “Empire” diva V. Bozeman and a booty-shaking performance by the Dancing Dolls — from Lifetime TV’s “Bring It!” — brought loud applause from thousands gathered for Super Saturday at the arena that serves as the home of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.
The free, family-friendly event also included dance competitions among CIAA-member institutions, a battle of the DJs, slam-dunk competition and the crowning of Miss CIAA, Donita Yavonne Barrett, 21, of Durham, N.C., Miss Winston-Salem State University.
Around mid-day, the three-day CIAA Toyota Fan Fest heated up at the Charlotte Convention Center, where fans mingled with the likes of rappers T.I., Lil’ Boosie and French Montana, TV and radio personality Donnie Simpson, actress Vanessa Williams of TV’s “Soul Food” and “The Flash” and actor Lance Gross of “Sleepy Hollow.”
Other highlights of tournament week were the CIAA Hall of Fame inductions, which this year inducted NBA great Earl “the Pearl” Monroe of Winston-Salem State; prolific NBA scorer Ronal “Flip” Murray of Shaw; as well as Abraham “Mr. CIAA” Mitchell of Suffolk, Va., who for 37 years has strutted around the arenas during tournament week wearing more than two dozen suits in a wide assortment of colors.
CIAA-week programs also impacted more than 10,000 youth around the city, CIAA commissioner Jacqie McWilliams said. The tournament, which attracted more than 150,000 visitors to the city, makes a $55 million impact to the local economy and provides about $125,000 in scholarships annually to each of the 12 member institutions.
“Wow! This was an amazing week for CIAA,” McWilliams said. “This was my fourth CIAA Tournament, and it seems like it gets better every year.
“We want to make sure that the fans, the sponsors, student athletes and member institutions have a great time, and make sure they’ll want to come back,” she added.
The tournament celebrated its 11th year in Charlotte, after committing to six more years after the 2014 tournament.
As part of the agreement, the CIAA moved its offices to Charlotte last summer, from Hampton, Va.
Fred Whitfield, Charlotte Hornets president and chief operating officer, would like to see the tournament make a permanent home in the Queen City.
“We love hosting the CIAA Tournament,” Whitfield said Saturday night. “And as a former ball boy of the CIAA Tournament in Greensboro (N.C.), to be able to host it in Time Warner Cable Arena, to be able to have all the great fans, and commissioner McWilliams and the great job they do, it’s just an honor and a privilege to open our doors and make everyone feel at home and make everyone realize how important they are to our community and how much we appreciate them selecting Charlotte to be the home for their crown jewel.”
In an earlier version of this story, Virginia Union guard Kiana Johnson’s name was incorrectly stated.