Winston-Salem State needed to reach deep for a spot in the CIAA championship game.
The Rams, the second seed in the South Division overcame a 16-point second half deficit to beat J.C. Smith 78-71 in the CIAA semifinals at Time Warner Cable Arena for a date against Livingstone, the top seed.
Winston-Salem State (18-10) swung the momentum its way with a full-court press that unraveled J.C. Smith’s rhythm and the hot shooting of Marquez Jones, who scored 13 of his game-high 29 points in the final seven minutes.
Jones nailed consecutive 3-point baskets, including the go-ahead shot for a 69-66 Rams lead with 3 minutes, 49 seconds left to deflate the Golden Bulls, who were playing their fourth game in as many days.
Preston Ross added 16 points for Winston-Salem State, while Tyre Desmore chipped in 14. Emilio Parks led J.C. Smith (18-12) with 22 points, followed by Antwan Wilkerson with 16 and Emerson Williams with 12.
Winston-Salem State’s pressure got to the Golden Bulls in the second half, forcing 11 J.C. Smith turnovers and limiting them to 33.3 percent (10-30) shooting. The Rams, meanwhile, remained consistent, hitting 48.4 percent of their shots (15-31) to take control late
Both teams shot well in the first half, with J.C. Smith hitting 55.2 percent of their attempts (16-29) compared to Winston-Salem State’s 54.2 percent (13-24).
Parks got off to a blazing start, scoring 12 points in the first seven minutes, but was forced to the bench with his second foul 8:32 before the break.
Winston-Salem State crept to within 29-28 on a pair of Desmore free throws at 4:08, but the Golden Bulls responded with LaMarquis Letchaw and Wilkerson combining for 11 of the next 14 J.C. Smith points and a 43-34 lead at recess.
The Golden Bulls held a 16-11 edge on the boards, which included seven on the offensive end and a 13-8 lead in second-chance points. J.C. Smith also forced 10 turnovers, converting them into 10 points.
Parks scored 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the half, followed by Wilkerson’s 10. Desmore matched Parks’ output for Winston-Salem State.