CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Bryon Westmorland had a huge night in leading Bowie State to the CIAA championship.
The senior forward scored a career-high 38 points including 26 points in the second half to outduel Livingstone's Mark Thomas and help Bowie State break open a tight game for an 85-74 victory over Livingstone in the CIAA finals at Time Warner Cable Arena on Saturday. The Bulldogs (16-13 overall) won their second championship, 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."
However, the Blue Bears 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 for the Bulldogs. 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 Friday's 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 finished the night making 13 of 19 shots which ranged 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. Darnell Turner added 11 points but he was the only other double figure scorer. Anthony Welch scored nine points on 3 of 4 three-point shooting.
The Bowie State big men impacted the contest from the start by limiting the Blue Bears to one shot and getting inside for easy baskets. A dunk by Smith off a missed layup lifted the Bulldogs to an early 15-7 lead.
Led by Thomas, the Blue Bears came back to pull within 22-19. The Blue Bears led 26-24 on his three-point play.
The Bulldogs reclaimed momentum when Wilson swished a three pointer for a 40-36 Bulldogs lead with under a minute remaining in the half. A three-pointer by Westmorland made the score 43-38 Bowie State, but Thomas answered with a three before halftime to cut the Bulldogs lead to 43-41 at the break.
Thomas scored 16 points in the first half for the Blue Bears. Westmorland scored 12 and Smith with 10 for the Bulldogs. White added eight points for the Bulldogs.
Thomas gave the Blue Bears a 46-44 lead in the second half on a three-pointer, but Bowie State reclaimed the lead at 51-46 on a free throw and layup by Westmorland.
Once again, it was Thomas who brought back the Blue Bears. His free throw and three from the deep corner put the Blue Bears back ahead 53-51. Westmoreland scored five straight points as the Bulldogs regained the lead at 56-53. A dunk by White and a layup by Westmoreland extended their lead to 65-56, giving the Bulldogs the cushion they needed to hold off the Blue Bears. When Scott scored on a tip-in, the lead reached 13 points at 75-62.
The All-CIAA Tournament team featured Westmorland and Scott of Bowie State, and Thomas, Jody Hill and Ethan Anderson of Livingstone. The other All-CIAA Tourney members are Quinton McDuffie of Chowan, Christopher Grier of Virginia State, Justin Glover of Winston-Salem State, Derrick Washington of Lincoln (Pa.), and Angelo Sharpless of Elizabeth City State. Johnson C. Smith won the Team Sportsmanship Award.