Livingstone carved itself a piece of school history at the CIAA tournament.
The Blue Bears broke a two-year streak of finals failure by beating Winston-Salem State 83-68 on Saturday for their first men’s title. Livingstone, the South Division’s top seed, never trailed and held off a spirited Rams challenge, capped by a celebration of fans and students on the Time Warner Cable Arena floor.
The Blue Bears led by as many as 16 points in the second half, but Winston-Salem State, the South’s second seed, seized the initiative to climb to within 58-51 with 6 minutes, 40 seconds left. The Rams resorted to full-court pressure to unnerve the Blue Bears during the run, but the backcourt of tournament MVP Mark Thomas and Jody Hill sealed the deal with consecutive steals for baskets that pushed Livingstone to a 64-51 lead.
Thomas, the CIAA Player of the Year, finished with 23 points on 6-of-11 shooting while Hill added 21 on 7 of 16 from the floor. Four Winston-Salem State players hit double digits, with Javan Well leading the way with 15, backed by Marquez Jones’ 15, Preston Ross’ 13 and Tyre Desmore with 11.
The Rams, who came from behind to beat Johnson C. Smith in the semifinals, struggled on offense, connecting on 32.4 percent of their shots (23 of 71) while Livingstone hit 28 of 54 (51.9 percent) field goal tries.
Livingstone was efficient on offense in the first half, hitting 14-of-27 shots in building a 35-28 halftime lead. The Blue Bears made liberal use of the 3-pointer, going 5 of 9 beyond the arc, with Thomas and Hill going 4 of 7.
Thomas and Hill led Livingstone with 10 and eight points while Wells had 12 for Winston-Salem State. Livingstone’s defense frustrated while limiting Winston-Salem State to 11 of 33 (33.3 percent).
Livingstone leading rebounder Eric Mayo (17) played at Shelby High.
The Blue Bears had won their first conference title in the school’s history. Livingstone won the CIAA Southern Division for the second straight season.