Virginia Union, the CIAA’s top women’s basketball team, found itself in a tie game midway through the third quarter, on the road in a hostile environment at rival Virginia State.
The game looked as if it would stay close until the end, but Union’s freshmen twins made sure that wasn’t the case.
Shareka and Shameka McNeill each made a pair of 3-pointers during the final four minutes of the third quarter, giving the Panthers a burst of momentum and a 5-point lead after three periods that eventually became a 62-52 win over the Trojans.
“I really do like that they were able to finish the game strong,” said Union coach AnnMarie Gilbert. “They have ice in their veins.”
Though their 3-point shooting was the killer component of the third-quarter run, a fast-break chemistry between the sisters allowed them to sprint behind the Trojans’ defense and score multiple open layups in the second half. Shareka finished with 13 points, while Shameka had 12.
The sisters look and sound identical and speak together as if they share a brain. Their connection carries over to the court, which encourages Gilbert to play them at the same time.
“They actually pout when they’re not on the floor at the same time,” said Gilbert. “It just works.”
Alexis Johnson, a senior forward and the Panthers’ most gifted scorer, scored her 1,000th college point, totaling 13 in what Gilbert called an off game for Johnson. The McNeills likened the senior to All-Star Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors because of her lanky frame and ability to score from anywhere.
The Panthers have yet to lose to the Trojans during Gilbert’s three seasons and are now squarely in control of their fate with four games left before the CIAA tournament. Their final game against Chowan (17-4, 9-2) will be a battle after the Hawks, second in the conference standings, beat Union on Feb. 3.
Virginia Union 11 13 20 18 — 62
Virginia State 18 9 12 13 — 52
Virginia Union (21-2, 11-1 CIAA): Luckie 4, Spivey 8, Carter 4, Pecota 8, Sutton 0, Johnson 13, Shar. McNeill 13, Sham. McNeill 12. Totals 22-46 12-13 62.
Virginia State (19-3, 9-3): Smith 17, Marcus 7, Fitts 4, Green 7, McKinney 3, Brown 14, Reynolds 0, Robertson 0. Totals 17-56 13-23 52.
3-point goals: VUU: Pecota 2, Shar. McNeill 2, Sham. McNeill 2. VSU: Brown 2, McKinney, Green, Smith.
VSU men erase big deficit, avoid Virginia Union upset
It didn’t matter that Virginia State’s men had trailed for nearly the entire first half and were down 8 points at the break.
It didn’t matter because the Trojans caught fire late in the second half, making three straight 3-pointers to capture their first lead of the half with 9 minutes on the clock.
And it didn’t matter that the Panthers’ top scorer, Todd Hughes, was at the foul line, down 1 point with 15 seconds left. Hughes missed the first shot of a one-and-one.
The Trojans (19-3, 9-3 CIAA) won 60-57, despite leading for just eight of the game’s 40 minutes, and avoided what would have been a significant upset at home to Richmond-area rival Virginia Union.
George Wythe graduate Brandon Holley was the spark for Virginia State’s motor, making back-to-back 3-pointers to give his team a 48-47 lead. Cyonte Melvin was the finisher, making a steal and layup with 50 seconds remaining and burying two free throws with 12 seconds left to seal the win.
Holley finished with 9 points and Melvin had 14, but it was forward Richard Granberry who led the team with 16 points. Todd Hughes carried the Panthers (11-13, 6-6), scoring 16 points.
The win puts Virginia State in control of the CIAA’s Northern Division, up two games with four left until the conference tournament.
Virginia Union (11-13, 6-6): Paige 3, Smith 9, Jenkins 8, Walker 6, Hughes 16, Cooley 9, Peebles 0, Thornton 0, Moore 6. Totals 25-62 4-12 57.
Virginia State (19-3, 9-3): Wright 2, Brown 5, Melvin 14, Vedder 4, Granberry 16, Holley 9, Owens 0, Williams 8, Smith 2, Corum 0. Totals 21-51 13-17 60.
3-point goals: VUU: Smith, Hughes, Cooley. VSU: Holley 3, Williams 2.
Halftime: Virginia Union 31-23.