College basketball: ECSU 67, Livingstone 63
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Basketball can be a cruel game, and it had zero sympathy for Livingstone veteran Greg Henry on Thursday.
Henry’s hustling, on-the-floor steal with 34 seconds on the clock temporarily breathed life into the Blue Bears, but when his free throws clanged off the iron with 5.2 seconds left, Livingstone’s fate was all but sealed.
Livingstone dropped its CIAA opener to Elizabeth City State 67-63 at New Trent Gym, and the foul line was the bottom line. The Blue Bears (3-4) shot 12-for-28 at the stripe in their own house, while the visitors went 18-for-21.
“We did some good things,” said Livingstone coach James Stinson. “We played well defensively and we outrebounded them. But the free-throw line was a killer.”
Take away Ethan Anderson’s 6-for-6 effort, and the Blue Bears were 6-for-22 on free ones. That’ll get you beat on any level of hoops.
“We didn’t do the little things and they just executed down the stretch better,” said Livingstone’s Omar Ford-Bey, who hit four 3-pointers. “They got the shots they wanted — and they made free throws.”
Elizabeth City State’s Angelo Sharpless had a lot do with the Blue Bears losing. Held in check most of the night, he buried four critical shots in the last six minutes and finished with 19 points.
“It’s on us to play better on defense, but he’s a tough guard,” Anderson said. “He shot it well. A good player like that is going to get his.”
Livingstone struggled to score in the first half and trailed by as many as seven, but Mark Thomas provided energy off the bench to finally get the Blue Bears untracked. They managed to inch ahead 32-30 at halftime despite 6-for-16 foul shooting.
Livingstone led by four early in the second half, but turnovers got the Blue Bears back in a hole. They were down 49-42 before they started feeding the Vikings (7-4) a steady diet of the crafty 6-foot-9 Anderson on the block.
“We’re going to have the advantage inside against most teams,” Anderson said.
He went to work. He had 12 of his 18 points and all eight of his boards after halftime.
“Ethan is a horse in the middle, and getting the ball inside to him and to Nasir (Austin) was something we focused on,”Ford-Bey said. “We won the battle inside.”
Trailing 56-50 with 5:28 left, the Blue Bears lost a point and probably two when Anderson’s one-and-one free throw was wiped out by a teammate’s lane violation.
“We had mental lapses on key possessions and we also had 17 turnovers,” Stinson said. “Our senior leadership has to do a better job.”
With the Blue Bears trailing 58-50 with 4:15 left, Ford-Bey, a deadly southpaw, found the range. He hit three 3s in a three-minute span to keep Livingstone in the hunt, although Sharpless kept answering.
Bey’s final 3 with 1:20 remaining cut the Vikings’ advantage to 63-61.
The Vikings finally missed at the foul line when Marquie Cooke bricked two straight, but teammate Omar Jones, who scored 17 points, got a killer stickback on a long rebound to make it 65-61.
Anderson scored inside for the Blue Bears with 45 seconds left to play to make it a two-point game. Then Henry came up with his dramatic steal 11 seconds later.
Henry was in line for a storybook finish after he was bumped going up for a shot on the left baseline with 5.2 seconds to go, but the free throws Livingstone needed to force overtime didn’t drop. Then Sharpless made two free ones to seal it for the Vikings.
“Greg’s still our leader, and he can’t get down,” Ford-Bey said. “It’s a long season, and we’ll need him to lead us.”
The Blue Bears, who haven’t won since Nov. 19, play at Lincoln on Saturday.
ELIZABETH CITY STATE (67) —Sharpless 19, Jones 17, Patterson 14, Goldsmith 6, Cooke 5, Price 4, Tucker 2, Spady, Wright, Moore, Williams.
LIVINGSTONE (63) — Anderson 18, Ford-Bey 12, M. Thomas 8, Austin 8, Henry 7, Jackson 4, D. Thomas 4, Johnson 2, Okam, Adams, Sellers.
ECSU 30 37 — 67
Livingstone 32 31 — 63