VUU to take on VSU Saturday at Barco-Stevens Hall

2/8/2019, 6 a.m.
Virginia Union University suffered a 88-73 basketball knockout on Jan. 19 in its last meeting with Virginia State University.

Basketball matinee double feature

What: Virginia Union University versus Virginia State University

When: Saturday, Feb. 9

Where: Barco-Stevens Hall on the VUU campus, 1500 N. Lombardy St.

Tipoff: 2 p.m. for the women’s game; 4 p.m. for the men’s game

Virginia Union University suffered a 88-73 basketball knockout on Jan. 19 in its last meeting with Virginia State University.

Having cleared its head, the VUU Panthers are hopeful of better results in round two on Saturday, Feb. 9, on the VUU campus.

The rematch pits one of nation’s hottest teams, the VSU Trojans, against the lukewarm Panthers. Starting this week, VSU was 19-3 overall and 11-0 in the CIAA, with 15 straight wins.

The Trojans base their winning streaks by months. VSU Coach Lonnie Blow’s squad went undefeated in December and January and now it’s working on February.

Barring an unforeseen collapse, VSU is likely the CIAA Northern Division champ and a top seed for the CIAA Tournament Feb. 25 through March 2 in Charlotte, N.C.

See-sawing VUU is 12-9 overall, 8-3 in CIAA, under Coach Jay Butler. The Panthers have alternated between winning and losing streaks and are vying for second place in the CIAA Northern Division.

Octopus offense: VSU strikes from so many directions, its opponents hardly know where the next blow is coming from.

Led by 6-foot-6 Jahmere Howze (12.9 points per game), VSU boasts a balanced attack that includes players Cyonte Melvin (11.5 points per game), Brandon Holley (10.1 points per game), Jalen Jackson (9.7 points per game) and Cedric “CJ” Wiggins (8.9 points per game).

Close to home: Coach Blow has built a NCAA Division II powerhouse minus a lot of long distance recruiting. Of 17 players on the Trojans’ roster, 13 are from Virginia, two from Ohio and one from Washington. Also, Daniel Lual was born in Sudan, but came to VSU directly from Warwick High School in Newport News.

Zero is a hero: Wearing jersey No. 0 for the VUU Panthers, Terrell Leach has averaged 20 points per game on a combination of 3-point bombs and athletic drives to the rim. A transfer from Winston-Salem State University, Leach became eligible to play 10 games ago. In VUU’s most recent win over Chowan University, Leach had 21 points, six assists and four steals.     

One-man down: VUU assists/steals leader Jemal Smith has suffered a hand injury and will be sidelined indefinitely. Taking over as lead ball-handler is Eric Bowles, a 6-foot junior transfer from the Division I University of Central Connecticut. Bowles was 6A North Region Player of the Year in 2014 for W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax.

Two for the price of one: Preceding the men’s game at Barco-Stevens Hall, the juggernaut VUU Lady Panthers will be heavy favorites over VSU.

Coach AnnMarie Gilbert’s Lady Panthers are 19-1, including a 73-49 win over VSU on Jan. 19 in Ettrick.

Sophomore guard Shareka McNeill is the leading candidate for CIAA Player of the Year with a 22.5 scoring average. Opponents are often reduced to fouling the ultraquick guard, and she relishes the opportunities. McNeill is 70 for 96 at the line, 73 percent.

Inside, 6-foot freshman Ifunanya Okoye has emerged as a dominant force coming off the bench. The native of Lagos, Nigeria, came to VUU from Banner Christian School in Chesterfield County. Okoye averages 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds, while hitting 59 percent from floor.

Coach James Hill’s Trojans, 9-11, are led by 5-foot-11 Chrisanna Green, who averages 16 points, 12 rebounds per game.

History lesson: This represents a rare VUU-VSU matchup at tiny Barco-Stevens Hall. Most games in recent decades have been played at VSU, the Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center in Richmond, the Richmond Coliseum and even in New York City.   

VSU did come to VUU two years ago. Both Panthers teams prevailed in a jam-packed atmosphere. Fans not arriving in time for the women’s game had little luck getting in, much less finding a seat with an unobstructed view.