The 24th Freedom Classic featured several local vendors, musical performances and a nearly sold-out crowd at Virginia State’s new Multi-Purpose Center, but it was Shareka McNeill and Virginia Union that stole the show in a 73-49 victory over the Trojans on Saturday, January 19.
McNeill, one of the CIAA’s top players, finished with 23 points and was the vocal and emotional leader for the Panthers.
Virginia State got off to a quick 15-5 start before a technical error involving the game clock caused an hour-long delay with 4 minutes remaining in the first quarter.
When the game resumed, the Panthers, ranked sixth in Division II, lost some momentum and struggled to regain rhythm on the offensive end. The Trojans saw success with implementing a defensive press of their own that helped to slow the Virginia Union run, forcing seven turnovers.
Virginia Union shot just 35 percent from the field in the second quarter after shooting an impressive 69 percent in the first. Even with the sloppy play at times, Virginia Union was able to take a 14-point lead into the half.
“I was disappointed because we started very fast before the delay, but anybody, even the best team will be affected after waiting for an hour,” said Virginia Union coach Annmarie Gilbert. “We’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day.”
Similar to the first few minutes of the game, Virginia Union dominated the second half as they extended the lead by as much as 30 points. The Panthers were stout defensively behind an intimidating full-court press that made good use of their depth and athleticism. Virginia Union held the Spartans to 29 percent from the field and forced an impressive 24 turnovers.
The Trojans failed to find good looks due to the tenacious perimeter defense of guards like Bianca Lockamy, who had four steals, and long forwards Jasmine Carter (6-foot-2) and Nicole Floyd (6-foot-3). Floyd also added 17 points on the offensive end. Chrisanna Green led Virginia State, finishing with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Winning in big fashion has become a theme for the Panthers this season, having won more than half of their games this season by 20 points or more.
“I was glad to see our kids catch rhythm in the second half and play our game,” said Gilbert. “Virginia State is our big in-state rival, so it’s always good to win this game on their home court in front of a big crowd.”
Virginia Union now travels to Bowie, Md., to face Bowie State University at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 23.
The game can be viewed at vuusports.com.