Do you believe in magic? VUU does

Fred Jeter | 2/29/2024, 6 p.m.
Virginia Union University’s Panthers had smiles on their faces while bussing to Baltimore earlier this week. Not so for Virginia ...

Virginia Union University’s Panthers had smiles on their faces while bussing to Baltimore earlier this week.

Not so for Virginia State.

In one of those “Oh, my gosh, did you see what I just saw?” moments, VUU ended a troubled regular season on a cloud-nine note at the host Trojans’ expense.

The regular season ended with a fantastic finish for the ages. Down 61-49 with 3:55 left at VSU’s Multi-Purpose Center, the Panthers clawed back for a 64-63 win on a two-hand, alley-oop dunk and following free throw by Kaylen Vines with two seconds left.

The game was played before a crowd of 1,098 and national HBCUGO TV audience.

Vines’ show-stopping slam came off an inbounds, baseline lob pass from Travis Vaughn.

Perhaps it was an omen. Vines and Vaughn both grew up not far from Baltimore where VUU hopes to continue its momentum.

Despite all the close losses and frustration this season, VUU wound up tied with Lincoln for the CIAA North title with 7-3 division marks. Overall, the young Panthers are 13-17. Lincoln is the top seed, based on a better CIAA mark – 10-7.

Virginia State, 5-5 in the division and 14-14 overall, arrived in Baltimore as the North’s third seed.

In the beginning: The CIAA tournament was born, with just four teams in 1946 at Turner’s Arena in Washington, D.C. The event stayed in D.C. until 1951 at Uline Arena before moving to Baltimore and the Morgan State campus in 1952.

Other host cities have been Durham, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Hampton, Norfolk, Richmond (1987 and 1991-93), Raleigh and Charlotte (from 2006 to 2020.)

Brightest stars: Many CIAA standouts have gone on to significant NBA careers.

The list includes Al Attles (North Carolina A&T); Sam Jones (North Carolina Central); Bobby Dandridge (Norfolk State); Earl Monroe (Winston-Salem); Marvin Webster (Morgan State); Rick Mahorn (Hampton); and Mike Davis, Terry Davis, Charles Oakley and Ben Wallace — all Virginia Union.

Surprisingly, none of VUU’s future NBA players was on the 1980 (Keith Valentine MVP), 1992 (Derrick Johnson MVP) and 2005 (Antwan WaltonMVP) national championship squads.

Crabtown venue: CFG Bank Arena, located a short walk from the Inner Harbor and Baltimore Convention Center, opened in 1962 as the Baltimore Civic Center.

It was the home of the NBA Baltimore Bullets from 1963 to 1973. With seating for 14,000, it previously was called First Mariner Arena and Royal Farms Arena.

Almost: VUU’s Tahj Harding came close to winning the CIAA scoring title. The junior from Ohio averaged 18.7 points, just a few friendly rolls short of Bluefield State’s Jordan Hinds at 19.2 points.

Two former Panthers were CIAA scoring leaders and NCAA Division II champions.

Mike Davis averaged 36.3 points in 1968, leading the nation. A.J. English accomplished the same in 1990, averaging 31.1 points.

VUU’s Robert Osborne (20.2) led the league in scoring a year ago. In 2020, Terrell Leach was second in CIAA with 23.2 points per game.