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J.C. Smith wins ‘strangest game ever’

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.

It is rare that a team has to shoot the lights out twice – once literally, once figuratively – to win a college basketball game.

It is rarer still for that game to stay tied for more than 40 hours.

But that’s what happened to Johnson C. Smith this week in a three-day odyssey of a CIAA contest against Winston-Salem State. It started Wednesday night and concluded Friday afternoon with J.C. Smith winning, 89-86, in overtime.

Only a single five-minute overtime period was played Friday on the J.C. Smith campus. Play started at 2 p.m. and ended at 2:14 p.m. Students stormed the court after two Winston-Salem State three-pointers rimmed out in the final 10 seconds.

Everything else had been played Wednesday night until the lights – well, two of them, anyway – went out.

“That was the strangest game ever,” Winston-Salem State coach Bobby Collins said.

J.C. Smith sophomore guard Joshua Linson had an instrumental part in both the game’s 40-hour delay and its eventual outcome.

“I did kind of cause this,” Linson said, grinning.

With the game tied 76-all and 0.3 seconds left Wednesday night, Linson took an inbounds pass and threw a baseball-style heave toward the goal, 80 feet away.

“I thought it had a chance,” said Linson, who had already scored 25 points. “But I always think my shots have a chance.”

This one did have a chance to do something, but not what Linson intended.

Brayboy Gymnasium on J.C. Smith’s campus is a raucous, well-loved building that opened in 1961. The 32 lights that brighten the court are only about 20 feet above the floor. They hang from a much lower ceiling than you usually find in basketball gyms. Each of those lights weighs about 70 pounds when you include their casing. They are low enough that players have hit them a number of times on full-court shots in practice, but never in a game.

But Linson’s fireball broke one of them, sending glass from the bulb showering onto the court, and also knocked that light into another one. The second light didn’t break but came swinging down toward the court. A safety chain kept it from falling all the way down, but it was swinging precariously.

Coaches and officials cleaned up the glass, looked at the lights and decided to declare the game – temporarily – a tie. The athletes’ safety was the primary concern. And if a light fell and hit someone, J.C. Smith’s legendary coach and athletics director Steve Joyner Sr. worried about a possible lawsuit.

So Linson had literally shot the lights out. Everyone at Brayboy left.

Basketball games have been delayed before, but not often. In 2008, the SEC basketball tournament had to be postponed and ultimately moved from the Georgia Dome to Georgia Tech’s campus arena after a tornado ripped a hole in the Georgia Dome’s roof.

For more than a day, the JCSU-WSSU game stood as a tie. On Thursday, the conference office got involved. No one much wants a basketball game to end in a tie, including the two schools.

Winston-Salem State was offered a coin flip to break the tie.

“No thanks,” Collins said. “We’ll come back and play.”

“Good,” Joyner said. “We’ll get everything ready.”

So J.C. Smith did. The two damaged lights were repaired. The overtime period was rescheduled for 2 p.m. The game would be free to anyone who showed up, and about 1,000 people did.

Winston-Salem State left for Charlotte at about 10:30 a.m., drove through a rainstorm and got to the gym a little after noon. There was a lot of warming up by both teams for only five minutes of play.

But when the game started, it was like everyone had walked into the filming of a really good movie and decided to play their part to the hilt. It felt exactly like an overtime, not like the first five minutes of a game.

Both teams made one difficult shot after another. Emilio Parks, one of J.C. Smith’s best players, had fouled out in regulation. But his backup, Alandre Davis, took three shots Friday and nailed all of them.

With the score tied at 84, Linson got the ball and sprang up from 25 feet away with a hand in his face. Swish.

That was the overtime period’s biggest shot. The Golden Bulls (15-10, 7-8 CIAA) couldn’t have been much hotter. They ended up making 4-of-6 field goals and all four free throws in those torrid five minutes to edge Winston-Salem State (15-10, 10-5) and gain some momentum entering next week’s CIAA tournament in Charlotte.

“That was the longest game ever,” Joyner smiled. “And the shortest game ever.”

And although that statement doesn’t make sense on its face, everyone involved in this weird but wonderful game knows exactly what the coach meant.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler
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