Livingstone’s seniors went out in grand style against their biggest rival.
Senior guards Jody Hill, Anthony Welch and Mark Thomas combined for 68 points, including seven over the final 86 seconds in the Blue Bears’ 87-82 CIAA South win against J.C. Smith at Trent Gym on Saturday. The victory gave Livingstone (16-6, 6-1) a split of the regular season series and kept it a game in front of Winston-Salem State and Fayetteville State for the division lead.
“These young men have persevered with injuries and the hand that’s been dealt to them,” Blue Bears coach James Stinson said. “They stayed committed and focused. We played a game like this down in Charlotte, so we were just hoping we could execute. We were privileged to get out of here with a win.”
The Hill-Welch-Thomas trio did its part, hitting 25-of-52 shots to keep J.C. Smith (13-10, 2-5) at bay. Welch led all scorers with 28 points and 10 rebounds while Hill added 19 points and a crucial three-pointer to give Livingstone an 83-80 lead with 1 minute, 26 seconds left. It was Hill’s second conversion beyond the arc in 10 tries.
“Jody had his head down a little bit,” Stinson said. “He was emotional from the standpoint of his number of games here are counting down. He loves his school and he wants to do well, and I told him we’re going to come back to you no matter what happens, we’re going to try to get you that open look.”
Thomas, the CIAA’s leading scorer at 20.4 points per game, provided that opportunity with his ninth assist to go with 21 points. Scoring primarily off dribble penetration, Thomas broke down J.C. Smith’s defense nearly every time he drove to the paint to shoot or hit an open teammate.
“We had to make the plays to win the game,” he said. “All these games are important, so we had to do what we had to do to stay in first place.”
J.C. Smith, which has lost four in a row, had its chances to seize the initiative late, but couldn’t answer Livingstone’s last-minute rally.
Golden Bulls coach Steve Joyner went with a totally-new starting lineup to add a spark, with Joshua Linson and Alandre Davis scoring a season-high 14 and 12 points respectively. Emilio Parks came off the bench to pace J.C. Smith with 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting, while LaMarquis Letchaw added 14 for the Golden Bulls, who connected on 33-of-60 field goal tries (55 percent) compared to Livingstone’s 33-of-78 (42.3 percent).
“We couldn’t do anything” late, Joyner said. “Their seniority took over. Hill hit a big shot – that’s what you want out of a senior. They got to the line many, many ways. They did enough to win the ball game.”
Welch had the hot hand for Livingstone in the first half, dropping 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including a tip-in at the buzzer for a 43-41 Blue Bears advantage at intermission. Livingstone connected on just 39.1 percent of its shots in the first half, but compensated by converting 14 Golden Bulls turnovers into 15 points.
J.C. Smith produced solid results with a remade starting lineup, hitting 16-of-29 shots in the half (55.2 percent). Linson scored nine points on 3-of-5 from three-point range and Alandre Davis added eight points on 4-of-5 shooting. The Golden Bulls’ reserves outscored Livingstone’s 20-9, with Emilio Parks coming off the bench for 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting.