J.C. Smith put itself on the right track at the right time in its biggest game of the season.
The Golden Bulls rallied from a double-digit deficit to beat CIAA South rival Livingstone 76-73 in front of a standing room only crowd at Brayboy Gym for its second straight win and a share of second place in the division. J.C. Smith (13-6, 5-4) never trailed over the final 11 minutes but had to dig deep to survive seven lead changes and five ties in the second half.
“It’s definitely a Southern Division tournament type atmosphere, but we cannot rest on this,” Golden Bulls coach Steve Joyner said. “I think we grew up tonight. I hope it has some carry-over value.”
LaMarquis Letchaw led J.C. Smith with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting, but drawing an offensive foul on Livingstone’s Jody Hill with 9.8 seconds with the Golden Bulls nursing a one-point lead was his biggest play. Letchaw drained both free throws and Eric Dubose’s last second three-pointer missed the mark.
“I just tried to stay home on defense and make sure they didn’t score,” said Letchaw, who added six assists and four steals. “I knew I had him cut off and he’d have to get away. As soon as he put his arm bar in my chest I just kind of drew the foul. I wouldn’t call it a flop, but we got the call, didn’t we?”
J.C. Smith overcame a slow offensive start to connect on 60 percent of its second-half shots and draw free throws by going to the hoop. The Golden Bulls made 17-of-26 foul shots, including 13-of-16 in the second half while Livingstone (12-7, 4-5) made 10-of-18.
The Blue Bears reeled off a 15-4 lead in the first five minutes of play and took a 35-31 advantage into recess behind Eric Mayo (15 points) and Mark Thomas (18 points, four assists), who scored 11 and 10 points respectively. The Blue Bears led by as many as 13 points, but the Golden Bulls rallied by extending their defense to contest the three-pointer and going inside on offense.
“We cut them down a few points,” Joyner said. “Thomas got his average and Jody’s four under his, but if those kids are getting 36 to 50 points, it’s a long night.”
Emilio Parks and Antwan Wilkerson scored 18 and 10 points respectively for J.C. Smith, which connected on 28-of-60 shots (46.7 percent) 13-of-35) of its shots compared to Livingstone’s 29-of-65 (44.6 percent).
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