The finals for the 2023 CIAA tournament are all set for what promises to be a rocking CFG Bank Arena during Saturday’s championship doubleheader.

The Virginia Union men’s squad walked into the tournament as the Northern Division champion and the top overall seed. But Samage Teel’s pull-up jumper with 11 seconds remaining sent the Panthers packing as Teel’s Winston-Salem State squad won 45-44 and advanced to the title game.

Both teams struggled during a low-scoring first half, with Virginia Union ahead 21-16. A few minutes into the final period, the Panthers pushed the lead to nine. But the Rams clawed and scratched their way back until Teel’s clutch shot gave them the one-point lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Winston-Salem State will be shooting for its 13th CIAA tournament title and its first since 2020 when they face Lincoln University, who outlasted the Fayetteville State Broncos 52-49.

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In the other men’s semifinal, Lincoln knocked out Fayetteville State with a nail-biting 53-49 win and were led by Ethan Garita and Reggie Hudson, who both scored 11 points. Korey Williams added 10 points and four rebounds. The Lincoln men will be making their first appearance in the championship game.

The Elizabeth City State women pulled out a thrilling 53-52 win over Johnson C. Smith, sending the Lady Vikings to the championship game for the second consecutive year. They were led by Dy’Jhanik Armfield’s 20 points and will be looking to win the school’s first CIAA tournament championship when they face off against Shaw.

Shaw outlasted Lincoln in the other women’s semifinal, 59-45. Baltimore native MaKenzie Pollard had 14 points to help lead the surprising six-seed to the championship game.

The men’s championship will tipoff at 1 p.m. today, followed by the women at 4 p.m. The games so far have been everything fans could have wanted.

“The atmosphere here is so incredible,” said David Cordova, the founder of the website, which covers college, high school and the New York City playground basketball scene. “Being here, this atmosphere makes me wish I had attended an HBCU. The love, energy and spirit is elevating. And as a New Yorker, I love that the tournament is in Baltimore now, which gives us folks from up north a better opportunity to experience this.”

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The thrilling games on the court were matched by the excitement in the stands, with both sides of the lower bowl almost filled, as the schools’ respective bands and cheerleading squads had their own battles.

If you needed one brief moment to summarize the energy of the CIAA tournament, all you had to do was keep your eyes near center court during a second half timeout with Lincoln holding a negligible 46-45 lead with 3:52 remaining in their semifinal matchup.

As the players jogged to the sideline, the violins at the opening of Juvenile’s “Back That Thang Up” summoned both cheerleading squads to center court.

When the New Orleans rapper dropped his first line, “Girl you workin’ with some back, yeah!”, it signaled the beginning of a battle that rivaled the best basketball games of the weekend.

By the time Mannie Fresh hopped into the song’s second verse, as the thumping bass invaded even the most stoic limbs in the crowd, the battle had elevated to one that would have given Beyoncé’s army of gifted backup dancers a run for their money.

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The choreography, timing and mesmerizing precision of each squad’s routine was stunning to the uninitiated, those experiencing the CIAA’s festive, party-like atmosphere for the very first time.

“I love that the CIAA tournament is in Baltimore, where I was born and raised and where all my dreams came true,” said St. Frances Academy, college basketball and WNBA legend Angel McCoughtry. “I just love that it’s Black excellence, that HBCUs are getting the attention they deserve and a piece of that sponsorship money.

“The energy is so crazy in here,” McCoughtry continued. “This is my first CIAA and I’m really impressed. I can’t believe that I haven’t come earlier. I’m looking forward to making this a tradition every year, dancing with the bands, the cheerleaders, the kids, everybody. I’m here, man!”