Lincoln (Pa.) University head coach Jason A. Armstrong challenged his players to find their “why” before the season.

With 3:56 remaining in the game and a 42-42 tie, it took a few missed shots for Lincoln to get going again. Ethan Garita knocked down a jumper, and Reggie Hudson assisted Chase Jackson for a corner 3-point shot. From that point, the Lions sealed the game. Lincoln defeated Fayetteville State 54-51 Saturday to win the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association men’s tournament at CFG Bank Arena.

The Lions found their why, and it guided them to the first CIAA tournament championship in school history.

Adversity might as well be the Lions’ middle name. And it began with Lincoln’s schedule. The CIAA/PSAC Challenge (with the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) was the team’s first opportunity to grind — going 2-3 in the stretch. Lincoln went 1-1 in the Gary Miller Classic against Davenport and Gannon. Even conference play wasn’t easy; it was 3-1 in the first four games before losing three consecutively.

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Nothing ever came easily. Armstrong wants to let everyone know it.

Ethan Garita of Lincoln is called for a charging foul as he puts up a shot. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

“We’ve had one of the toughest schedules that I’ve put together, and I did that for a reason,” Armstrong said. “It’s to prepare us for these moments and prepare us for these games. Peter [Sorber] and Reggie can tell you, we’ve had some losses against some top 25 teams that are ranked right now in the region and ranked in the country, and we only lost to them by three or even went to overtime.

“We had leads, but we didn’t know how to hold them. We’ve learned how to hold the lead and not take bad shots and execute down the stretch. That’s what made us better along the way.”

Sorber, a Morgan State transfer, played two seasons with the East Baltimore university and made a change. Lincoln became his new home, but he tore an ACL before his first season with the program in 2022-23.

Sorber finished the championship game with nine points, six rebounds and four blocks.

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“I was supposed to be with the guys,” Sorber recalled. “Z [Zahrion Blue], coach [Corey] Lowery — they were the guys that were the driving force of me coming to Lincoln during that offseason. I just wanted to play with my brothers. I just knew that, if we all came together, we’d get the ’ship.”

Lincoln had just two players in double figures — Garita and Bakir Cleveland. Garita had a steady game with 15 points on a 6-for-9 mark from the field, with five rebounds and two assists.

Both teams shot under 40% from the field. Lincoln was 17-for-44 (38.6%) and Fayetteville State 17-for-56 (30.4%). The Lions opted for midrange jumpers and drives to the basket, resulting in only nine attempts from 3-point range, but 24 free throw tries.

Fayetteville State had an opportunity to seal a CIAA title in an arena that is familiar to head coach Luke D’Alessio. The championship would’ve also been a sweep for the Broncos after the women’s team won just hours earlier.

It just wasn’t his team’s Saturday in the sun.

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“I thought it was a terrific game,” D’Alessio said. “Both teams really wanted to win, both teams competed hard, and it came down to the final stretch and they made the plays that needed to be made down the stretch. They made foul shots. They got the ball on the side, and we fouled them a few times on their drives. They’re a really good team.”

Kaleb Coleman of Fayetteville State blocks a shot by Bakir Cleveland of Lincoln.

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