Gallagher column: This playoff run was planned last year
Getting ready for Livingstone’s playoff run ...
SALISBURY — No sooner had Livingstone’s 2012 CIAA tournament ended in a loss to Bowie State than Tyler Johnson and the other rising seniors got together to plan their strategy for 2013.
“They made a conscious effort to set some goals immediately after the game,” Livingstone coach James Stinson said.
The goal was more than to play well in the CIAA, but to make the Division II playoffs.
On Sunday, the Blue Bears (22-6) were indeed picked for the national postseason.
As a fifth seed, they’ll be heading on a seven-hour journey to West Liberty (W. Va.) for an 8:30 p.m. Saturday game against No. 4 seed Fairmont State (22-8).
Bowie State, which defeated Livingstone in the CIAA tournament championship contest last week, is an eighth seed and will take on West Liberty, the nation’s top-ranked team.
Winston-Salem State also made it in as a No. 2 seed.
“It’s a very good feeling for the kids and the student body,” Stinson said. “There is so much pride and so much excitement.”
But the wait to find out was another topic of conversation.
Johnson, Stinson and the Blue Bears didn’t know their fate until late in the evening.
“There was a lot of anticipation,” Stinson said.
Too much, actually. Teams in the East didn’t know until around 11 p.m. because the announcement was made on the West Coast. So Livingstone and its fans waited.
Stinson knows how some players in the NCAA tournament gather to see if they make the Big Dance. The players here would have enjoyed the same thing if the announcement had come at a decent hour.
“We talked about it,” Stinson said. “But we had family members in town. When it got so late, I told them to spend some time with them. We didn’t make it a big to-do.”
Stinson was confident the Blue Bears would get in for the first time in school history.
“It all depended on how other conferences would end up,” he said. “I thought we had a fairly good shot just based on our last 10 games. But you never know.”
In a world of “what have you done for me lately,” Livingstone’s 8-2 mark in crunch time obviously impressed the committee.
By Tuesday afternoon, the Blue Bears were chipper and ready to practice. Many showed up early for their 1 p.m. practice.
They would let everyone else debate about the seeds.
Like Winston-Salem State’s No. 2 standing. Livingstone defeated the Rams twice during the regular season and won the Southern Division outright.
Stinson, in his ninth year at the school, is a grizzled veteran with a couple of decades in these basketball wars. He shrugged it off.
“You have to look at strength of schedule,” he said. “They had a few bigger games with top-ranked teams.”
Who cares, really?
The Livingstone Blue Bears are in the national playoffs, where anything can happen.
“Somebody told me, ‘You don’t seem that excited,’ ” Stinson smiled. “But I’ve been there in NAIA with Barber-Scotia. I know what it takes.”
What it takes is for Livingstone to execute Stinson’s game plan. And Tyler Johnson and company have proven they can play with — and beat — anyone when they do.
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or firstname.lastname@example.org.