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College Basketball: Livingstone 87, J.C. Smith 82

SALISBURY — Visiting Johnson C. Smith shot 55 percent at New Trent Gym on Saturday night — and lost.
Out-shot, out-rebounded and out-bigmanned, Livingstone weathered a stampede of pointblank points by the Golden Bulls and defended its homecourt with a fierce 87-82 CIAA victory on Senior Night.
Emilio Parks scored 26 points for the Golden Bulls (13-10, 5-7) on 11-for-16 shooting and Antwan Wilkerson yanked down 18 rebounds.
Livingstone (16-6, 9-4) managed to hold on because Mark Thomas did what he almost always does — 21 points, nine assists, one turnover — because Anthony Welch had the game of his life with 28 points and 10 boards, and because Jody Hill was Jody Hill when he had to be.
When Wilkerson scored on a driving scoop with 1:21 left, it was 80-all, and the Golden Bulls, who had trailed by 10 at the 7-minute mark, had all the momentum.
Hill had been off-target on his jumper, and as the Blue Bears huddled in a tense timeout, Hill asked coach James Stinson if he still wanted him to shoot the ball or pass it to a hotter hand.
“We’re not fair-weather people on this team,” Stinson told him. “You’ve made big shots all year, and you’ll make this one. Someone’s going to have a shot. If it’s you, take it.”
Stinson sent all four of his shooters back onto the floor — Thomas, Hill, Welch and exciting youngster Eric Dubose. Livingstone patiently swung the ball, and then reversed it, and it was indeed Hill who had the shot. It wasn’t an easy shot or even an open shot, but he rose high and drilled it from deep on the right wing for a three-point lead, and there was pandemonium in packed New Trent Gym,
“It was further out than we wanted and it was more closely defended then we wanted, but Jody went straight up and straight down in the same spot, it looked good, and he made it,” Stinson said. “It was a backbreaker of a shot.”
Welch was colorful in his description.
“That’s Jody Hill,” Welch said. “Big shots are what he does. That shot — that was a knife in the heart.”
There was still work to do, but Hill and Welch made clutch free throws. Thomas took a key charge.
“Thomas is usually the first one getting out of there to get downcourt,” Stinson said with a smile. “But he stood in there and sacrificed his body for us. He realized how important that charge was.”
Livingstone has won four in a row and six of its last seven. The only recent loss was a three-point decision at J.C. Smith, and the Blue Bears didn’t want to lose again to their rival.
But then again, Thomas doesn’t want to lose to anybody.
“The rivalry meant more fans today, but every game is equally important to me,” Thomas said. “We want that No. 1 seed for the tournament, so this is just another game. We need to win all of them.”
Welch usually roars off the bench as a defensive stopper, but Senior Day meant he was a starter and his brother, Darius, who doesn’t play often, took the floor with him.
“Having my brother out there was an extra bonus, but mostly I was just trying to be that X-factor today,” Anthony Welch explained. “My father had talked to me about it before the game, about stepping up and being that X-factor. So I was more aggressive with my shot than usual, and I was trying to get on the boards hard and help out our bigs.”
Darius Welch contributed a 3-pointer. Anthony Welch was amazing in his 34 minutes. He shot 9-for-14 from the field and nailed four 3-pointers. On a day when Hill and Thomas were 2-for-15 on 3s, the X-factor enabled the Blue Bears to survive and stay perfect on their home floor.
Livingstone led 43-41 at the half because Anthony Welch tapped in a missed 3-pointer at the horn.
“Johnson C. Smith has a great coach (Stephen Joyner), the guru of the CIAA,” Stinson said. “His guys listen to him and they did a great job all day of exploiting the gaps in our defense. It was one of those games where we had to just play that first half to get to the second half. We absolutely had to stay out of foul trouble in the first half and we did.”
Livingstone is now 6-1 in divisional play. That’s what determines CIAA tournament seeding.

J.C. SMITH (82) — Parks 26, Linson 14, Letchaw 14, Davis 12, Wilkerson 7. Brown 3, Walls 2, Pratt 2, Lotharp 2, Daniels, Huntley.
LIVINGSTONE (87) — A. Welch 28, Thomas 21, Hill 19, Dubose 7, Mayo 3, D. Welch 3, Bailey 2, C. Johnson 2, D. Johnson 2, M. Johnson, Okam.
J.C. Smith 41 41 — 82
Livingstone 43 44 — 87

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