CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Byron Westmorland had a huge night in leading the Bowie State University Bulldogs to the Central Interscholastic Athletic Association (CIAA) championship.
The senior forward scored a career-high 38 points including 26 points in the second half to outduel Livingstone junior guard Mark Thomas and helped Bowie State break open a tight game for an 85-74 victory over the Livingstone College Blue Bears in the CIAA finals at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 2. The Bulldogs (16-13 overall) won their second CIAA championship in school history, including the first under Head Coach Darrell Brooks, after entering the tournament as the No. 4 Northern Division seed. The latest title comes 10 years and one day after the Bulldogs claimed their first CIAA crown in 2003.
With the victory, the Bulldogs received the conference's automatic bid in the NCAA Division II Tournament. The Blue Bears (22-6 overall) are anticipating an at-large bid after reaching the title game as the No. 6 ranked team in the Atlantic Region. The top eight teams in the region will advance to the tournament.
“I'm so proud of my team, especially my five seniors,” Brooks said. “They've worked hard. We've had a lot of adversity this year and all through it, they stuck together and we got a great reward for it.”
Livinstone missed out on that elusive first league championship after winning their first Southern Division title and coming into the tournament as the division's top seed. The Blue Bears can blame Westmoreland, the tournament MVP, for that.
The Bulldogs' star sparked a late run which clinched the title. Down 53-51 with 14:42 left, the Bulldogs outscored the Blue Bears 34-21 with Westmoreland scoring 18 points during the spurt. The Bulldogs' finish was similar to the March 1 semifinal against Winston-Salem State when they went on a late surge to reach the championship game.
The Bulldogs withstood an outstanding effort by Thomas of the Blue Bears, a talented guard who scored a career-high 34 points before fouling out late. Thomas kept the Blue Bears in the game by scoring 18 points in the second half. His layup on a drive cut the Blue Bears' deficit to 75-67. But Westmoreland completed a three-point play of his own for a 78-67 lead with 2:05 left that wrapped up the game for the Bulldogs, who outscored the Blue Bears 42-33 in the second half.
Westmorland made 13 of 19 field goals, ranging from jumpers to layups in transition which resulted in three-point plays at times. He also made 10 of 15 free throws in addition to getting six rebounds and four steals.
Westmorland got support from his inside players. Junior forward Carlos Smith had 11 points and seven rebounds and senior forward Najee White contributed 10 points. Senior forward Dameatric Scott had seven rebounds and five assists. Senior guard Bryan Wilson also helped out on the boards, grabbing six to go along with eight points. The inside play complemented Westmoreland as the Bulldogs scored 46 points in the paint and 16 second-chance points.
“[The] game was kind of what we expected,” Brooks said. “It was a war. We thought it was going to be a very physical game. We thought that the team that did the best job defending and on the backboards would be the team that would probably win the game and fortunately, it was us.”
As a team, the Bulldogs shot 56 percent. Meanwhile, the Blue Bears shot 38 percent.
Other than Thomas, the Blue Bears struggled from the floor. Thomas was 11 of 21 from the floor and 9 of 13 from the free-throw line in addition to three steals. Junior forward Darnell Turner added 11 points but he was the only other double figure scorer. Junior guard Anthony Welch scored nine points on 3 of 4 three-point shooting.
The All-CIAA Tournament team featured Westmorland and Scott of Bowie State, and Thomas, junior guard Jody Hill and senior forward Ethan Anderson of Livingstone. The other All-CIAA Tourney members are senior forward Quinton McDuffie of Chowan, junior guard Christopher Grier of Virginia State, senior guard Justin Glover of Winston-Salem State, junior guard Derrick Washington of Lincoln (Pa.), and senior guard Angelo Sharpless of Elizabeth City State. Johnson C. Smith won the Team Sportsmanship Award.