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Lincoln MBB wins CIAA Championship

03/05/2024, 11:15am EST
By Rob Knox

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

BALTIMORE – Amid the celebratory madness unfolding below them on the court, it seemed only fitting that Lincoln University men’s basketball head coach Jason Armstrong and athletics director Harry Stinson III simultaneously climbed separate ladders to cut the final pieces of the net.

 At the nation’s first historically Black college, where history is treasured, Armstrong and Stinson are bonded forever in Lincoln lore by a snipped championship cord, a forever symbol of triumph.

A year ago, Armstrong was the interim head coach as Lincoln lost in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) tournament championship game to Winston-Salem State.  Armstrong’s interim tag was removed in July as he became the 23rd head coach in program history.

 All he did was reward Stinson’s faith during his first full season in charge by leading Lincoln to the CIAA mountaintop following a pulsating 54-51 victory over Fayetteville State before a roaring crowd at CFG Bank Arena on Saturday.  

Lincoln head coach Jason Armstrong and Athletic Director Harry Stinson III finish the net-cutting ceremony following Saturday’s CIAA championship win. (Photo: Courtesy of The CIAA and Visit Baltimore)

It was Lincoln’s first CIAA men’s tournament championship since rejoining the conference in 2009 and reclassifying to Division II. Lincoln also secured the CIAA’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division II tournament. Lincoln will learn its opponent and destination on Sunday, March 10 when the pairings are announced.

“Over the past few years, I have gotten to know Jason and am a firm believer in his vision to lead Lincoln onward and upward,” said Stinson after officially naming Armstrong head coach at the time. “In his time at Lincoln, Jason has truly grown as a leader as evidenced by our historic championship run that just fell short last season. His recruiting background, his ability to connect, train, and lead young men is the overwhelming reason to remove the interim tag and name him our head coach.”

Once the final buzzer sounded, Lincoln players in navy blue uniforms leaped in the air, hugged each other, and danced. Lincoln junior guard Marshall Roberson wore an exhausted look of disbelief on his face as he placed his hands on his knees and glanced up at the scoreboard to make sure it continued displaying the Lincoln logo on it, confirming the happy chaos happening around him was indeed real.

“We knew we weren’t leaving out of here without a championship,” said Lincoln junior forward Peter Sorber, who was named CIAA Tournament MVP. “I am just happy. It feels so surreal that I can’t put this into words. I am so happy for my guys, all the coaches, all the managers, and all the fans who came out to support us.”

The Lincoln men’s basketball team poses together after winning the CIAA championship on Saturday. (Photo: Courtesy of The CIAA and Visit Baltimore)

To appreciate Lincoln’s championship, one must rewind to the beginning when the transition from Division III to Division II was rough. In addition to losing to established CIAA programs by double digits regularly, the Lions compiled an 8-45 overall record during their first two years as an official Division II program.

Lincoln struggled to get out of the first round of the CIAA tournament, going one-and-done 10 times in 11 years. Lincoln’s first CIAA tournament win was against Winston-Salem State in overtime in 2016.

With Armstrong leading the program during the last two years, Lincoln has won six of seven CIAA tournament games and participated in two championship contests. Armstrong also helped Lincoln win its second CIAA Northern Division regular season championship this year.

Competing with an intensity fueled by urgency, Lincoln returned to Baltimore motivated, focused, and united to rewrite last year’s sour ending. The experience of losing was something no Lion wanted to feel again. Throughout its championship run, Lincoln played with precision, swagger, and poise.

“Our guys just wanted it a little bit more,” Armstrong said. “They stayed focused and in the moment. It was wonderful to see our fans be here with us this whole week and cheer us on. We came back this year stronger and did what we wanted to do.”

Using sticky-fingered defense that limited their three tournament opponents, Elizabeth City State, Claflin, and Fayetteville State to 30.1 percent shooting and 19.6 percent from 3-point distance, the Lions rose to the occasion. Lincoln also allowed an average of 55 points per game during the tournament, which was 15 points fewer than it permitted during the regular season.

Lincoln’s Peter Sorber was the CIAA Tournament MVP. (Photo: Courtesy of The CIAA and Visit Baltimore.)

In its semifinal victory over Claflin, Lincoln locked in after the Panthers tied the game at 52 with two minutes, 37 seconds remaining. The Lions scored the final six points and forced four turnovers on Claflin’s final seven possessions. Trailing Fayetteville State, 40-35, with 7:21 remaining, the Lions unleashed a finishing flourish, scoring 13 of the game’s next 15 points over the next six minutes to take control.

“Wow, last year after we lost, I said we would be back,” Lincoln junior guard Reggie Hudson said. “We’re back and we are champs. We’re not done dancing. It’s March. We’re going to go back to Oxford, Pa., polish our tap shoes, and keep dancing.”

The confident Lions are excited to create some shining moments and enrich their legacy when they compete in the NCAA Division II tournament for the first time. Despite 10 wins in its last 12 games, Lincoln (17-13 overall) will most likely be the No. 8 seed in the eight-team Atlantic Region, especially since no CIAA programs were ranked regionally.

“We’ve faced adversity all season long,” Armstrong said. “We played a tough schedule, and I did that for a reason, which was to prepare us for these moments. We’ve had some tough losses against programs who are currently ranked in the top 25 where we lost in overtime and by one point. Those games made us better.

“You also must respect the fact that we’ve been here and been under these bright lights. We beat Fayetteville State in the semifinals last year and in the championship game, it was our first time here with a young team. Winston-Salem had a bunch of older guys who were more experienced. This year our experience took over and that’s why we’re champions.”

 Rob Knox is an award-winning professional and a member of the Lincoln (Pa.) Athletics Hall of Fame. In addition to having work published in SLAM magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, and Diverse Issues In Higher Education, Knox enjoyed a distinguished career as an athletics communicator for Lincoln, Kutztown, Coppin State, Towson, and UNC Greensboro. He also worked at ESPN and for the Delaware County Daily Times. Recently, Knox was honored by College Sports Communicators with the Mary Jo Haverbeck Trailblazer Award and the NCAA with its Champion of Diversity award. Named a HBCU Legend by, Knox is a graduate of Lincoln University and a past president of the College Sports Communicators, formerly CoSIDA.

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