College basketball: Livingstone 65, Chowan 60
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Sixty long days rolled off the calendar between Livingstone men’s basketball victories, but Thursday’s 65-60 CIAA victory against Chowan had everyone thinking positive.
The Blue Bears finally ended an eight-game slide by holding off the Hawks (6-12, 0-6) in front of a big crowd at New Trent Gym, but blue-collar forward Tyler Johnson wore a smile like a man who had just tasted the champagne of an NBA title.
“We had the same kind of rough stretch last year, but we came back strong,” Johnson said. “It does feel great to win a game, and we’re not that far from being right back on track.”
Livingstone survived last season’s rough patch well enough to reach the CIAA championship game, so coach James Stinson isn’t throwing in the towel.
“I’m just happy for our guys because they really needed this win,” he said. “Their confidence level was a little shaken by a lot of close losses, but winning this game lets them know that they’re still in the mix.”
The 6-foot-2 Johnson was everywhere as a help defender and he claimed 12 boards — five offensive.
“Chowan wasn’t boxing out very well,” Johnson said modestly. “And my job is to rebound.”
Mark Thomas and Omar Ford-Bey were clutch at the end, knocking down the sealing foul shots.
Livingstone (4-8, 1-5) still hasn’t been able to get high-flying star Greg Henry going, but 6-6 Nasir Austin was dominant with 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
“We made a conscious effort to attack the boards tonight,” Austin said.
The stat sheet backed him up. Livingstone’s 43-29 advantage on the glass was pivotal. So was a 15-2 edge in second-chance points.
Neither team scored often in a choppy first half, but Chowan had an especially tough time. The Hawks shot 33 percent prior to halftime.
“We played a solid 20 minutes of defense,” Austin said. “Made them work for every shot and got the rebounds.”
Turnover-plagued Livingstone still trailed 23-20 late in the first half, but a tying 3-pointer by Ford-Bey triggered a surge by the Blue Bears, who outscored Chowan 13-1 over the final four minutes.
Included in that run was a 30-foot banker from straightaway that Trone Jackson had to launch to beat the shot clock, but maybe Livingstone was due for a little luck.
A strong pullup jumper by Austin gave the Blue Bears a 33-24 lead at the break.
The second half opened with more hustle by Johnson. His offensive rebound led to a three-point play by Josh Hodge, and a flurry by Hodge pushed Livingstone’s lead out to a dozen points.
It looked for a minute or so like the Blue Bears might get an easy one, but momentum disappeared once Chowan’s 6-7 Rickey Lamb, silent in the first half, starting drilling perimeter shots. It was 42-all with 13:40 left on the clock.
Austin came up big at that juncture, nailing a 15-footer and taking over the boards. A sharp bounce pass by Mark Thomas set up Austin for an easy two, and Drew Thomas scored in transition to cap an 8-0 run for a 50-42 lead.
“Coach put me situations where I could be successful,” said Drew Thomas, who scored 10.
Now it was a question of whether or not Livingstone could finally finish one.
The final minutes belonged mostly to Mark Thomas, who is the No. 3 point guard on LC’s depth chart. Stinson put the ball in his hands.
“Just a sophomore, but he’s learning from Quintin Redfern and Trone Jackson, and he’s developing,” Stinson said.
On three straight possessions, Mark Thomas milked clock before driving and drawing fouls. He calmly went 5-for-6 at the foul line.
Livingstone had a five-point lead and the ball but turned it over — its 18th miscue — with 20 seconds left, and Chowan’s Chris Williams made a layup to cut the Blue Bears’ lead to 61-58.
But Ford-Bey knocked down two pressurized free throws with 13 seconds left. Then he made two more with 4.9 seconds to go to clinch it.
“We had ill-advised turnovers, but we found out that if we execute at the end and make free throws we can win games,” Stinson said.
Livingstone has been struggling to make more than half its free throws. But on this night it was 20-for-27 (74.1 percent).
“We keep adding a few different things every game,” Thomas said. “We’re figuring out the puzzle and getting better as a team.”
CHOWAN (60) — Williams 12, Bethel 11, Lamb 11, Alston 9, McDuffie 8, Branscome 5, McGlone 4, Buright, Mears, Blackmon, Martin.
LIVINGSTONE (65) — Austin 17, D. Thomas 10, Ford-Bey 9, Johnson 7, Hodge 7, M. Thomas 6, Anderson 4, Jackson 3, Henry 2, Redfern, Adams, Sellers.
Chowan 24 36 — 60
Livingstone 33 32 — 65