J.C. Smith is onto something at the CIAA tournament.
The Golden Bulls, seeded fifth in the South Division, won their third game in as many days with an 81-77 victory against North No. 1 Bowie State on Thursday at Time Warner Cable Arena.
J.C. Smith (18-11) led from the opening tip and held off a late challenge to draw the Winston-Salem State-Elizabeth City State winner Friday.
“It feels really good to get to Friday,” said Golden Bulls forward Antwan Wilkerson, who finished with 12 points, five rebounds and four blocks. “We just preach going hard, sacrifice and going out there and leaving it all on the court, and by doing that we made it to Friday.”
J.C. Smith led by as many as 13 points, but ran into trouble in the second half when Bowie State (14-14) made its move while all-CIAA forward Emilio Parks (19 points on 6-of-7 shooting) sat with four fouls.
Bowie State pulled to within 75-72 on two free throws by Ray Gatling with 67 seconds left, but LaMarquis Letchaw, who led J.C. Smith with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting, took over with five of the next six Golden Bulls points to close the door.
“The guys really showed resilience,” J.C. Smith assistant coach Mark Sherrill said. “Bowie State did a good job cutting into the lead and we did get a little bit nervous, but the guys were able to handle the press they did.”
Three Bowie State players reached double figures, led by Gatling’s 23 points on 6-of-17 shooting, followed by Carlos Smith’s 12 and Cameron Knox’s 11. J.C. Smith made 66.7 percent of its shots (28-of-42) and limited the Bulldogs to 39.7 percent (27-of-68).
J.C. Smith shot a torrid 69.6 percent (16-of-23) from the floor in the first half to take a 41-32 lead into the break. Parks, as he has been throughout the tournament, was the catalyst with 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting, and Letchaw added 11 on 4-of-6 from the floor.
Bowie State struggled with 12-of-33 shooting, but compensated by outscoring J.C. Smith’s reserves 16-3 and 11-3 in second-chance points. The Bulldogs dominated the boards 40-25 and outscored the Golden Bulls 25-4 in second-chance points, but J.C. Smith came up with big plays when needed.
“The regular season is nothing but a dress rehearsal for the tournament,” said forward Emerson Williams, who led J.C. Smith with four assists and five steals in addition to six points. “We’ve been through a lot of things this year as far as the team and we’re just trying to come into this tournament and play as hard as we can because we’ve been inconsistent throughout this year.”