Virginia Union Head Coach Luqman Jaaber is presented with the 2012 Freedom Classic trophy. (VUU Athletics)

Richmond, VA- Once again, two CIAA  schools battled on one of the biggest stages in HBCU Basketball. Once again, the result was the same, as it has been since 2002. The Virginia Union Panthers defeated the Virginia State Trojans, 63-61 at the 17th annual Freedom Classic.

The victory at the Freedom Classic was the 23rd consecutive win for the VUU Panthers over their state rival.  VUU’s men’s basketball team  has not lost to VSU since January 2002.

Junior Wesley Simmons was the top scorer for Virginia Union University with 18 points. Junior Calvin Brown had 16 points and 7 assists. The Panthers won the game because they took care of the ball, only turning the ball over 6 times. They also created scoring opportunities by scoring 9 points from causing 13 turnovers. Virginia Union’s bench players outscored Virginia State’s 16 to 4, led by 7 points from Cordero Holt. Holt delivered two monster dunks in the game, both which put Union up by double digits.

Although the Panthers secured the victory to improve to 8-10 on the season, it was no easy task. Despite their 2-14 record, Virginia State was able to keep it close late in the game, even locking the score dead even numerous times throughout the game.

Virginia State went into the half with a 35-34 lead but Virginia Union’s commitment to defense and hustling for the ball helped them pull away from the Trojans’ late game surge. VSU head coach Darryl Jacobs’ passion for his team bellowed throughout the arena, with his exuberant yells towards his players. His enthusiasm did erupt into irateness towards the officiating which resulted in a team technical foul in the second half.

Virginia State sophomore Khalil Tate was on fire early on, finishing with 19 points. “I knew this was a big rivalry so I brought my A game. The one thing I have to work on is bringing that energy every game,” said Tate. VSU’s Kenny Mitchell led all scorers with 21 points.

The 2012 Freedom Classic was not decided until the last seconds of the game, with the Trojans attempting to pull the upset. With 10.8 seconds to go, Virginia Union had a  63-61 lead. Virginia Union’s Juan Wilson blocked VSU’s Devonte Williams shot, but Khalil Tate grabbed the offensive rebound and called timeout. Kenny Mitchell shot and missed the three pointer at the end, and the victory was sealed for the Panthers.

Both coaches felt like their teams could have done better.  “Foul shooting is very important. We were not making our foul shots which was a big problem,” said Jacobs. Jacobs said his team cannot dwell on this loss but move forward.

Virginia Union head coach Luqman Jaaber  felt that different strategies weren’t executed on the court. “I keep telling my guys to do your homework. With success you get complacent. We have to remember what we’ve learned and get better at it,” said Jaaber. Jaaber also commented on his young team, stating that they have unity on and off the court.

The Virginia Union Panthers will be finishing their third game of a back to back to back on Monday, hosting another CIAA rival in Johnson C. Smith University. The VSU Trojans will travel to Glenville, WV to play Glenville State College.