A year ago, the Winston-Salem State Rams returned to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, won the Southern Division title, and came into the CIAA Tournament as one of the favorites to reclaim its perch among the elite in the conference’s storied century-long history.

A loss to Fayetteville State at the buzzer in the tournament’s quarterfinals prevented it from happening a year ago, forcing the Rams to hold off on celebrating an 11th tournament championship.

The wait is over.

Stephon Platt came off the bench to lead all players with 21 points while Justin Glover made crucial shots in the second half on his way to 15 points and the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award as the Rams used a tremendous defensive effort for the second straight game to win the CIAA title after beating Elizabeth City State 62-51 on March 3 at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C.

The victory came in front of perhaps the greatest Rams player, NBA Hall of Famer Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, who was in attendance as the team was handed the C.E.

“Big House” Gaines Trophy for winning the CIAA Championship.

“Earl ‘The Pearl’ has definitely laid the groundwork, but when you speak about the CIAA, you speak about Big House Gaines,” Winston-Salem State coach Bobby Collins said of the legendary Rams coach. “We’re definitely pleased to have won this on his behalf and because we know how important this is to his family and to the history of the CIAA.”

It is the Rams’ first CIAA championship since the 2000 season, and they had to work for it. A No. 3 seed out of the Southern Division, Winston-Salem State (21-8) held the fifth-ranked Shaw Bears to their lowest scoring output of the season to pull off the stunner of the tournament, a 51-48 victory in the semifinals that earned Winston-Salem State its 17th trip to the tournament finals as the league celebrated its 100th anniversary.

“We know this is a big deal,” Glover said. “It’s 100 years. We know the history of Winston-Salem State in the CI. I’m very proud.”

The Rams gave another sterling defensive effort in the final against the North’s third-seeded Vikings (15-14), holding Elizabeth City State to just 30 percent shooting from the field and a season-low 51 points. It was also the second straight game in which the Rams did not allow a team to score any fast-break points.

Angelo Sharpless led Elizabeth City State with 20 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots. He scored 14 points in the first half, but was hampered by foul trouble in the second half. Quintin Spady added 10 points.

“We had to grind this one out,” Collins said. “We knew the victory would come down to the team that was able to make a run. We made a run, but more importantly, we were able to get stops.”

The championship is the ninth team title for Winston-Salem State in the two years since it returned to the conference. The title puts the Rams, who also won this season’s football championship before advancing to the national semifinals, six behind all-time leader Virginia Union, which has 17 titles. Norfolk State, no longer a part of the conference, has 12 championships.

Winston-Salem State will open the 2012 NCAA Division II Men’s Tournament against West Virginia Wesleyan on March 10.

The All-CIAA Tournament team was made up of Glover, Sharpless and Marquie Cooke (Elizabeth City State), Mark Thomas (Livingstone), Nasir Austin (Livingstone), Darren Clark (Bowie State), Byron Westmorland (Bowie State), Malik Alvin (Shaw), Curtis Hines (Shaw) and Tyrrel Tate (Fayetteville State).