Hill leads Blue Bears to rally
SALISBURY — The stat sheet says Livingstone’s Jody Hill shot 5-for-13 from the field.
What you can’t immediately tell from the stat sheet is that his five makes — all 3-pointers — came in the last eight minutes.
Hill, who had zero points at halftime, finished with 20, and the Blue Bears sprinted to a 72-67 victory against Bowie State in their CIAA opener at New Trent Gym on Thursday night.
“We’re taught to keep a clear, positive head even when things aren’t going our way,” Hill said. “If you do that, you can still make ‘em when they count the most.”
Eric Mayo barely played in an ugly first half that ended with Livingstone down 34-26, but he took over the glass late. He swished clutch foul shots and grabbed manly rebounds and finished with 14 points and 11 boards.
Mark Thomas had an off night but managed 11 points by getting to the foul line often. Anthony Welch added 10 points for the Blue Bears (8-2), and his defense was game-changing.
“There are no stats for a lot of the things Anthony does, but he gives us all the intangibles,” Livingstone coach James Stinson said. “Lots of deflections and keeping balls alive on the offensive board.”
Defense, specifically a 21-11 advantage in the turnover battle, won it for the Blue Bears. Welch, long-armed and hard-working, keyed Livingstone’s defensive effort. As poorly as it shot, Livingstone never got down more than 10 in the second half because of defense.
“It was all about keeping up the defensive intensity,” Welch said. “Offense has ups and downs, and Jody tonight was a great example of that, but defense is all day. Defense is 24/7 and 365, and that’s my thing.”
At times, Livingstone had no defense for Bowie State guard Ray Gatling, who scored 24 points. Cameron Knox shot Bowie (6-6) into a first-half lead and finished with 16 points.
Thomas and Hill were a combined 1-for-10, as the weary Blue Bears, coming off a four-game trip to Florida and then trips home, dug another halftime hole.
“We pulled this one out from deep within,” Stinson said. “But we can’t continue to play like this. We can’t keep putting ourselves in a position where we have to constantly fight from behind to win games.”
Livingstone trailed 46-40 when Stinson finally got Hill untracked with an inbounds play that freed Hill for a look from the right corner.
Then Hill made another 3 from almost the same spot moments later. Post man Christian Henry then energized LC when he made a spin from the high post and wheeled down the lane for a dunk and a three-point play that cut the Bears’ deficit to 54-53 with 4:50 remaining.
Hill drilled a 25-foot trey for the lead 30 seconds later, and his pullup 3 made it 59-55 LC with 2:45 left.
Hill’s deep 3 with Knox in his jersey put the Blue Bears up 62-58 with 1:55 left. Then Mayo and Hill knocked down free throws.
Livingstone was 23-for-29 at the foul line to help overcome 31.8 percent shooting from the field.
“When you play a really bad game and you can still win, that’s when you know you’ve got a good team,” Hill said.
BOWIE STATE (67) — Gatling 24, Knox 16, Smith 10, Williams 7, Beck 3, Z. Williams 2, Freeman 2, J. Williams 2, Rogers 1.
LIVINGSTONE (72) — Hill 20, Mayo 14, Thomas 11, Welch 10, Henry 7, Dubose 4, Bailey 2, Okam 2, D. Johnson 2, Lefeat, Flint, C. Johnson.
Bowie State 34 33 — 67
Livingstone 26 46 — 72