SALISBURY — The team meal in the CIAA is never a cupcake.
Chowan’s Hawks are winless in the league and were exhausted at the end of a long road trip, but Monday’s setback to Livingstone still came down to a last-second 3-pointer that was a few inches short.
The relieved Blue Bears prevailed 81-78 and snapped a two-game slide.
“Every CIAA team plays hard and every CIAA team has something to prove every single night,” Livingstone senior Omar Ford-Bey explained. “They came out here to get us tonight. They wanted to win on our homecourt.”
Chowan (5-9, 0-6) didn’t win, partly because of Livingstone’s balance — six Blue Bears reached double figures — and partly because a seventh Bear, Anthony Welch, made two huge defensive plays late.
Guard Alray Blackmon scored 21 for the Hawks. Ashante Ross hit four 3s and scored 16 points, so the Blue Bears were fortunate his last-second shot didn’t connect.
Mark Thomas (15), Darnell Turner (14), Jody Hill (13), Eladio Espinoza (11) Tyler Johnson (11) and Ford-Bey (10) were Livingstone’s double-digit scorers.
Livingstone’s talented, high-scoring backcourt duo of Thomas and Hill was deathly silent in the first half — combining for just one field goal — but that mostly was by design.
“Teams have started to play us as a perimeter team,” LC coach James Stinson said. “But we have some post men that can make plays, and we definitely wanted to work inside, and then outside tonight. We had to let it be known that we could grind one out.”
That plan worked. Turner, Espinoza and Johnson did some serious damage in the paint.
“We wanted to get everyone involved tonight, to get the ball inside more, and that’s what we did,” Thomas said.
For a weary-legged team, Chowan shot the ball incredibly well (54 percent) in the first half. The Hawks were tied 36-all with the Blue Bears at the break because LC’s big guys were blocking shots and getting stickbacks.
“We did some good things inside,” Stinson said. “Playing that way slowed Thomas and Hill down some, but everyone did what I asked tonight.”
Thomas became more aggressive offensively at the outset of the second half. His scoring gave the Blue Bears (12-3, 4-2) decent leads, but Chowan refused to go away.
“Livingstone’s guards are very good players — quick and strong,” Chowan coach Brett Vincent said. “They were quiet until their big guys started getting into some foul trouble, but then they took over.”
With Livingstone clinging to a slim lead, Hill banked in a contested shot, Johnson converted a physical and-one, and Welch buried a long-distance 3-pointer for a nine-point lead with 4:55 left.
But that would be the Blue Bears’ biggest edge. Once again, the Hawks rallied.
After a three-point play by Blackmon, Livingstone’s lead was reduced to a precarious 78-76 with 1:42 left.
When Hill missed a 3-point try, the Hawks had the ball.Blackmon again got to the rim, but this time he was denied by a soaring block by Welch.
“No. 1 (Blackmon) was driving the lane all night, but we didn’t really want to help off their shooters,” Welch said. “That time I came to help and I caught up with that ball.”
Chowan retained possession after Welch’s forceful block, but then the long-armed Welch cleanly picked the pocket of a dribbler on the perimeter, and the Blue Bears were able to run precious seconds off the clock.
Thomas hit two clutch free throws with 27 seconds to go for an 80-76 lead, but Blackmon answered with another drive.
With 7.2 seconds left, Hill made one of two free throws for 81-78, and that forced Chowan to look for a tying three.
Thomas forced ballhandler Greg Alston toward the sideline deep on the right wing. Alston managed to get the ball to Ross, but his on-line shot was short.
“It helped a lot that they had to get a 3,” Thomas said. “They got it closer to the 3-point line than we wanted, but we were able to make it a tough shot.”
CHOWAN (78) — Blackmon 21, Ross 16, Bethel 13, Smith 12, Williams 7, Fairley 5, Alston 4, McDuffie, Marshall, Lamb.
LIVINGSTONE (81) — Thomas 15, Turner 14, Hill 13, Espiinoza 11, Johnson 11, Ford-Bey 10, Welch 7, King, Bailey, Flint.
Chowan 36 42 — 78
Livingstone 36 45 — 81