VUU men get big win against rival

Fred Jeter | 1/25/2024, 6 p.m.
Virginia Union University has known hard times this basketball season, but the way Coach Jay Butler sees it, “We’re 1-0 …

Virginia Union University has known hard times this basketball season, but the way Coach Jay Butler sees it, “We’re 1-0 ... 1-0 with nine to go.”

The CIAA Northern Division title is determined by divisional record and VUU started divisional play with a convincing 54-44 win at Virginia State as part of the Freedom Classic Festival.

The rivalry game drew 1,905 fans to VSU’s Multi-Purpose Center.

“Our kids embraced the rivalry and were locked in on defense,” said Coach Butler, noting his team disrupted the VSU attack with 2-2-1 backcourt pressure and their trademark “circle zone” half- court defense.

Coach Lonnie Blow’s Trojans got few clean looks at the hoop and it showed in the statistics. VSU shot 31.4% from the floor and 21.7% from the foul line. VUU’s never-relax defense caused 24 turnovers.

The 44 point total is among the team’s lowest in decades.

VSU leading scorer Kamryn Edwards had just nine points.

The victory lifted the rebuilding Panthers to 7-12 overall, 2-5 in the CIAA, and 1-0 where it counts most, the divisional mark.

VSU fell to 8-10, 3-5 the CIAA and 0-1 in the division.

“We’ve won the Northern Division the last two years and we’re looking to three-peat this season,” Coach Butler said. “I’m excited; hopefully we’ve turned the corner.”

At one point this season, the Panthers lost seven in a row as Coach Butler experimented to find the best combinations on the court. Only two players returned from a year ago.

Juniors Tajh Harding and Jonathan Salazar provide the offensive spark for VUU. Harding scored 28 points, hitting 10 of 13 from the field, four of five from outside the arc and four-for-four at the foul line. Salazar, the bruising center from Panama, had 14 points, all from the foul line, in 18 tries.

“I told him to stay aggressive and he did,” Coach Butler said.

The Jan. 20 men’s and women’s games originally were scheduled for Barco-Stevens but were moved to VSU to accommodate Freedom Festival activities.

VUU was listed as the “Home” team on the scoreboard with the Trojans the “Visitors.”

VUU and VSU will meet next on Feb. 24, likely at VSU again to accommodate HBCU TV.

Details have not been ironed out, however.