Winston-Salem State had a little less than 20 seconds remaining to win the game, tied 61-61 with star guard Amaya Tucker bringing the ball up the court.

She refused a screen. The second screen came, and this time Tucker bolted toward the rim. The graduate transfer guard shot a layup with Bowie State players draped over her. The shot fell, and a whistle blew. Foul on the play. And one.

Tucker hit the free throw, giving her 25 points on an 8-for-11 mark from the field and her Lady Rams a 64-61 victory in the opening game of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament at CFG Bank Arena on Monday.

Afterward, Tucker’s eyes widened as she looked around the refreshed, 14,000-seat venue and reflected on the win.

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“Just being here is definitely a blessing,” Tucker said. “Coming in as a team where, honestly, compared to the season – we kind of just thought that it’s just a new season. Forget what happened in the conference.”

Tucker’s team is one of 26 that make up the Division II CIAA tournament, which includes both men’s and women’s teams and is in its third consecutive year in Baltimore after being played in North Carolina since 1994. While the Monday night crowd watching Tucker was sparse, subsequent games have seen increased attendance as the events surrounding the tournament got going (the CIAA does not release attendance for individual games). The CIAA tournament, one of the country’s oldest for historically Black colleges and universities dating to 1912, will conclude with games Friday and Saturday, and it is slated to return for two more seasons.

Keeping the tournament in Baltimore until at least 2026 was a no-brainer, CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams-Parker said, because of the support the tournament has received from city and state leaders.

“It’s been a great experience for me as a leader, an events person and an operation person to work with Visit Baltimore, CFG [Bank] Arena, the convention center, the mayor and the governor,” McWilliams-Parker said. “Anytime that you have an event like this that can pull the community together to really help you meet the mission for a large event, for me it’s an honor and pleasure to see that they’re making the investment.”

Bowie State’s relationship with Baltimore runs deep

Maryland has one CIAA school, Bowie State, but it has strong ties to the state’s largest city.

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Playing in Baltimore is an advantage, according to Bowie State guard Anthony Carpenter. Carpenter, a Reisterstown native and Gerstell Academy graduate, along with teammates Warren Mouganda (St. Vincent Pallotti) and Caleb Johnson (Archbishop Curley), played in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association — a boys private school basketball league.

The trio aren’t the only Bowie players who have Baltimore basketball roots. Center Detwan Montague hails from Baltimore but played high school basketball at Springdale Prep, in New Windsor, while forward Tyler Buckhanon is also a native of Baltimore but attended Bath County High School in Hot Springs, Virginia.

Bowie State coach Darrell Brooks lives in Randallstown and has a deep history with the area as well, leading the McDaniel College men during the 2000-01 season. He additionally spent time as an assistant at Loyola Maryland, and his son, D.J., attended Mount St. Joseph High School his freshman year.

He would be the first to say Bowie State and Baltimore have a symbiotic relationship.

“Just being from this area and getting the chance to play in Baltimore — just tremendous,” Brooks said. “Is it an advantage? Yes, it is. But you know what? Every year that we played down in Charlotte, it was an advantage to those schools. So we’ll take it.”

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Bowie State’s women’s team is also full of Baltimore-area talent. Anii Harris is from Ellicott City. Amaya Douglas is from Hanover and attended Old Mill. Tsion Smith and Shanysse Alexander are Mount Carmel alumni, while Kaitlyn Weaver-Adams and Khalia Turner went to St. Frances. Both of those teams play in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland — the girls private school league.

Head coach Shadae Swan is a Baltimore native. She coached Baltimore City Community College and played at Goucher College. Her 27-0 mark as the head coach of BCC is the best record in school history, netting the program a Maryland JUCO and JUCO Region XX championship in 2010.

Swan saw a large Winston-Salem billboard on Interstate 83 and a number of Claflin advertisements. “Once you get here, it doesn’t even matter where you’re from, you just gotta play basketball,” Swan said. Still, she spoke highly of the opportunity she got in Baltimore.

“I played basketball in Baltimore — Baltimore Parks and Rec,” Swan said. “I went to middle school and high school in Baltimore, and that background and foundation in the basketball community really helped me to get to where I am. Basketball is something that we take pride in in this city.

“It helps us to help our families, to say the least. It helps us to get out of tough situations. It helps us with our education and helps us to move forward and hopefully be able to give back what was given to us to help the younger ones to grow and elevate in life.”

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‘I’m eating crab cakes every freaking day’

Shaw women’s coach Jacques Curtis loves the opportunity that Baltimore presents. Curtis grew up near the ocean in Savannah, Georgia, and enjoys seafood. He likes one Baltimore delicacy, especially: crab cakes, of course.

But Curtis, in his 24th year at Shaw, also values the chance to show his players a new city. Most of his players are not from the region, or even country. Two are from Egypt and one each from Ecuador and Senegal.

“It’s great being in Baltimore. I really like Baltimore,” Curtis said. “You compare it to the other places that we’ve been. I love the food here — I’m eating crab cakes every freaking day,” adding about his players, “It’s good here and good for them.”

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