College Basketball: Livingstone 80, Pfeiffer 69
By David Shaw
SALISBURY — James Stinson has had about a month to evaluate the Livingstone men’s basketball team — and so far he likes what he sees.
“I like the team camaraderie and the way we’re playing,” LC’s seventh-year head coach said Saturday at Trent Gym. “They’re all willing to make sacrifices. We have some people that can score the ball, but they’re making sacrifices for the sake of the team.”
Paced by tourney-MVP Nasir Austin’s 22 points, the Blue Bears (2-0) downed Pfeiffer 80-69 in the third annual Highway 52 Shootout championship game.
“It’s a big deal to me,” senior Greg Henry said after being named to the all-tournament team. “It’s the first time we’ve ever won it and it sets us up for bigger goals down the road.”
Livingstone hopes to build on last season, when it went 17-12 and advanced to the CIAA title game. Pfeiffer (1-1) — smaller and less experienced — put up a good fight before unraveling in the last four minutes.
“It’s definitely a tough one to walk away from,” guard Danny Smith said after netting a team-high 22 points for the Falcons. “We’re gonna take this loss and try to learn from it.”
Pfeiffer jumped to a 13-6 lead when Elija Matthews drained a 3-pointer from the left side six minutes into the match.
“We were executing our game plan,” losing coach Jeremy Currier said after PU shot 42 percent from the floor, including 8-for-20 from downtown. “But they’ve got a lot of talent over there. They’re a heck of a team.”
Livingstone regrouped from a ragged start and took its first lead with six minutes remaining in the half. Mark Thomas, one of five LC scorers in double figures, knocked down a 3-ball and provided a 28-26 edge. The Blue Bears later used a reckless 18-8 run to take a 44-34 halftime lead.
“Philly ball,” Austin called it after shooting 9-for-11 from the field. “We were going up and down the court and there were lots of scoring opportunities — and some turnovers as well.”
Quinton Redfern’s three-point play and Tyler Johnson’s twisting layup from the left baseline gave the Blue Bears their biggest lead, 51-36, early in the second half.
“We have to work our way inside and then out,” Stinson said. “We didn’t concentrate a whole lot on shooting 3’s. We took the 3 only when it was there.”
Pfeiffer responded with a charge of its own, inching within 64-63 when Reggie Hollinger sank a pair of free throws with 4:32 to play.
“We needed to finish the game,” said Austin, LC’s 6-foot-6 power forward. “But a lot of times when you get big lead like that you relax. Me personally, I was just trying to finish strong.”
Austin provided the shock therapy LC needed and made the game’s decisive shot with 3:57 remaining. He took an inbounds pass from Johnson and hit a fadeaway 15-footer from the left side as the shock clock expired.
“I was not aware of that,” he later reported.
Pfeiffer was. It gave Livingstone a 66-63 lead and enough fuel to race across the finish line.
“They inbounded from under the basket and almost got a five-count,” said Currier. “But they made the right play to the right player.”
Actually, they didn’t. The play was designed to go somewhere else, but Austin made it work.
“It was an amazing shot,” Henry said. “It gave us a spark and got the crowd into it. This was a good night, a good start. We’ve just go to learn that when we have teams down we’ve got to step on their throats.”
NOTES: Joining Livingstone’s Austin and Henry on the all-tournament team were Pfeiffer’s Smith and Hollinger, Keon Moore from third-place Catawba and Andreaus Canty of fourth-place Morris.
PFEIFFER (69) — Smith 22, Hollinger 15, Anuna 9, Matthews 8, Gibson 8, Humphrey 7, Antley, Myers, Wallace, Isley.
LIVINGSTONE (80) — Austin 22, Henry 12, Johnson 11, Redfern 11, M.Thomas 11, Anderson 6, D.Thomas 3, Jackson 2, Okam 2, Ford-Bey, Hodge, Sellers.
Pfeiffer 34 35 — 69
L’Stone 44 36 — 80