Fayetteville State needed time to settle after a 3-pointer by Elizabeth City State’s NyAsia Blango with 17.3 seconds left in the CIAA tournament championship on Saturday afternoon at CFG Bank Arena.

Fayetteville State interim head coach Tyreece Brown called a timeout. Elizabeth City State looked to speed up its opponent with a press, but Fayetteville State’s Keayna McLaughlin broke it — finishing with a strong layup with 9.2 seconds left. From that point on, both teams’ fates were sealed. Fayetteville State went on to win the title matchup 64-59 — Brown’s first since taking over as the interim.

“Aye – we’re champions,” Brown said. “That’s the statement. It’s a blessing. It’s always tough to win championships; you’ve always gotta go through the tournament and win every game. People don’t realize how tough that is. You’ve gotta have a strong group of players that are mentally tough, and that’s what we have. It’s tough to win championships, but we’re proud of this group.”

McLaughlin was named MVP of the game with 17 points, four rebounds and three steals. CIAA Player of the Year Aniylah Bryant was named tournament MVP.

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There was turmoil for Fayetteville State after last season.

Even though former head coach Serena-King Coleman won a CIAA championship during the 2019-20 season and led the program to a 97-63 record over six seasons, she was dismissed after the 2022-23 campaign. An 18-7 overall record and a 14-2 conference record weren’t enough — as No. 8 seed Johnson C. Smith upset No. 1 Fayetteville State 62-54 in the CIAA quarterfinals.

Brown, promoted to interim coach a year and a day ago, led the Broncos to a 26-2 overall record, a 17-1 CIAA record and now the CIAA trophy.

Nyah Wilkins, a transfer from Barton College, had 12 points and nine rebounds. Her journey to Fayetteville State was based on trust with Brown.

“It’s my first year here and I don’t know what they had going on last year, but it’s just nothing but trust,” Wilkins said. “I’m just hoping and praying that we put all of our faith in our coach to let him coach.”

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Both teams struggled early, with Elizabeth City State shooting 4-for-20 from the field and Fayetteville State going 5-for-15 mark in the first quarter. Elizabeth City State’s Rasheka Simmons was efficient, scoring six points in the quarter to give the Lady Vikings a 17-13 lead.

Talia Trotter of Fayetteville State defends against Jessica Adams of Elizabeth City State. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Fayetteville State struck back by outscoring Elizabeth City 15-7 in the second quarter, shooting 5-for-13 from the field to the Lady Vikings’ 3-for-11. The Lady Broncos got active on fast-break opportunities, scoring 14 points in the open court.

Elizabeth City State’s Alanis Hill ended the third quarter with a buzzer-beating floater from the right baseline. With her team down 44-43 at that point, Hill began the fourth quarter with a 3-point field goal for a 46-44 lead.

It didn’t last long. Fayetteville State’s Wilkins made a layup to tie the game at 46. That began a flurry of lead changes that lasted the duration of the game.

With a little under a minute left and Elizabeth City State trailing, Blango dribbled up the court and shot a deep 3-pointer from the CIAA logo — swish. Elizabeth City State trailed just 60-59 with 36.6 seconds left, and Brown called a timeout. McLaughlin scored following a second timeout, and Fayetteville State salted the game away with two free throws.

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Despite the team’s loss, Elizabeth City State’s Simmons and Blango expressed respect for their head coach. Tynesha Lewis is a former WNBA player and North Carolina State standout.

“It’s a Black, excellent queen I’m sitting by right now,” Simmons said. “You’ve got to Google her. I wish she would’ve recruited me out of high school. She’s been a big inspiration. I’m definitely grateful for her.”

Elizabeth City fans root for the Vikings during the CIAA championship game Saturday. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

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