CHARLOTTE, NC - The Livingstone College Blue Bears made history on Saturday evening after clinching their first-ever CIAA Championship with an 83-68 win over Winston-Salem State University in Time Warner Cable Arena.
CIAA Most Valuable Player Mark Thomas led all players in the game with 23 points while All-Tournament selection Jody Hill added 21 points. Emarri Bailey, also an All-Tournament honoree notched 10 points in the victory while Eric Mayo hauled in 17 rebounds (three offensive, 14 defensive). The Blue Bears advance to the NCAA DII Atlantic Regional with a 21-7 record while the Rams end their season 18-11.
James Stinson, head coach of Livingstone College noted, "We were pleased that these young men had the opportunity to see the success and make history…They are truly a team. They get on each other but they really care about each other…I'm so happy to have the opportunity to do this for our institution."
The Rams had four players score double-digits in the loss. Javan Wells led the effort with 16 points while All-Tournament honorees Marquez Jones and Preston Ross notched 15 and 13 respectively. Tyre Desmore rounded out the leaders with 11 points.
"They have nothing to hang their heads about. They gave a good effort…We brought in eight new players this season…I'm proud of just having the opportunity to play here in the championship game," noted Winston-Salem State head coach Bobby Collins.
Thomas hit a three-pointer to open up the contest. Brian Okam put the Rams on the board with a dunk at the 18:45 mark. An 8-1 run including two three-pointers by Hill gave the Blue Bears an 11-3 advantage with 16:09 left in the half.
Both teams exchanged buckets and momentum approaching the midway point of the half. A free throw by Wells knotted the score 16-16 but Bailey quickly answered with a jumper to return the lead to Livingstone.
The Blue Bears clutched to a narrow advantage but managed to pull away just before halftime. Leading 30-26 with 2:10 on the clock, Bailey hit a layup for Livingstone while Jones answered with a jumper for Winston-Salem State.
A three-pointer by Anthony Welch extended the Blue Bears' advantage to 35-28 and sent Livingstone heading into the locker room at halftime with the momentum and the lead. Cornelius Johnson and Thomas each added scores for Livingstone to put them ahead 39-28 at the 16:41 mark.
A layup by Desmore put the Rams back in the game but Thomas answered with a jumper for the Blue Bears for a 41-30 advantage. Up 41-31, the Blue Bears nearly put the game out of reach with back-to-back three-pointers by Hill and Bailey, extending Livingstone's lead to 46-31 with 14:29 left in the game.
Jones hit a free throw for the Rams but Eric Dubose promptly drained a deep three, handing the Rams a 17 point deficit. After Desmore netted two free throws for Winston-Salem, but Anthony Welch and Hill teamed up to bring the Livingstone crowd to their feet using a three-pointer and layup for a 20 point advantage.
The Rams pieced together an 11-0 run to snag the momentum and cut the deficit to nine, making the score 54-45 with 9:05 remaining in the game. The Blue Bears tacked on four points using free throws while the Rams answered with four baskets of their own from the charity stripe. A layup by Jones cut the lead to seven points (58-51) with 6:40 on the clock and forced Livingstone to take a timeout.
The Blue Bears used a 10-2 run over the next two minutes to run away 68-53. Winston-Salem State battled and scraped to come back and earn some momentum. They were unable to overcome the deficit despite their efforts and fell behind 75-61 with 1:24 on the clock before allowing Livingstone to make school history with the 83-68 victory.
The 2014 CIAA All-Tournament Team is listed below:
Mark Thomas, Livingstone College
Marquez Jones, Winston-Salem State University
Preston Ross III, Winston-Salem State University
Emilio Parks, Johnson C. Smith University
Tyrell Tate, Fayetteville State University
Jody Hill, Livingstone College
LaMarquis Letchaw, Johnson C. Smith University
Antwan Wilkerson, Johnson C. Smith University
Juwan Addison, Fayetteville State University
Emarri Bailey, Livingstone College
Most Valuable Player: Mark Thomas
2014 John McClendon Sportsmanship Award: Johnson C. Smith University