Livingstone stumbles again, falling to W-S State

Published 9:55 pm Saturday, February 23, 2019

By David Shaw

SALISBURY — Livingstone’s men’s basketball team threw itself into its work Saturday afternoon, only to have it all thrown back.

The Blue Bears finished their CIAA regular season with a signature performance — and disappointment written all over it.

“We knew that sooner or later, our bubble was going to burst,” coach James Stinson said at New Trent Gym, where Livingstone squandered a nine-point, second-half lead and fell, 84-82, to Winston-Salem State. “We knew we’d hit a brick wall eventually and the last two games, that’s exactly what’s happened.”

Livingstone (16-11, 9-9) lost for the fourth time in their last five games and finished 7-5 in Southern Division games. That’s good enough for a No. 2 seed and free pass to tournament quarterfinals Thursday night in Charlotte.

“It’s tournament time,” was all forward Malik Smith could say after WSSU (12-14, 7-11, 6-6) rallied in the final two minutes and won its third straight.

The visitors avenged an 83-82 loss to Livingstone earlier this month. They placed five scorers in double figures, receiving 22 points apiece from former conference Rookie-of-the-Year Robert Colon and sturdy forward William Crandell.

Junior Roger Ray paced the Blue Bears with 14 points and 10 assists, but shot an unspectacular 4-for-17 from the floor. Smith converted five of seven attempts from the field and also posted a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds).

Livingstone shot only 35 percent from the field in the first half and trailed by 10 when Crandell muscled inside for a layup with 4:33 on the clock, polishing off an 11-1 surge. Lydell Elmore’s jackhammer jam, following Ray’s missed floater, drew the Blue Bears within 39-36 at halftime.

“There just wasn’t enough energy, enough effort, in the first half,” Smith said. “We though we were going to cruise today. As soon as we got up, we thought we’d just stay up.”

LC found renewed vigor and got up in the second half, forging a 52-46 lead on Cameryn Carpenter’s 3-pointer with 14:20 remaining. Six minutes later, Martel Handley followed his own 3-ball with a nifty, over-and-under layup the gave the Blue Bears a 66-57 advantage.

“When we get down against teams,” said winning coach Cleo Hill, Jr., “it’s usually one of three things: Either we’re giving up offensive rebounds, turning it over or taking quick shots. We helped them by shooting when we could have made another pass.”

The Rams helped themselves by shooting 59.3 percent in the second half. A four-point play by Julius Barnes and Colon’s 14-foot jumper from the left side steered WSSU within 69-66 with 4:32 to play. Colon finished 6-for-12 from the field and 7-for-11 from the free throw line. Crandell went 8-for-14 from the floor and scored 16 first-half points.

“When you start to leave Colon alone — and not recognize that he’s a shooter — then that’s a problem,” Stinson said. “And Crandell, he’s 6-5. We go 6-10, 6-10, 6-10 across the front and he just went and did what he wanted to do. That shouldn’t happen.”

The closing moments brimmed with dramatic plays, none more so than the one Winston-Salem executed with 37 seconds to go. Nursing a 79-76 lead provided by Barnes’ second four-point play and Rucker’s fast-break layup, the Rams set up an inbounds play from under the LC basket.

“It wasn’t the play we wanted,” Hill said. “We just decided to pull something else out that time. For that to be there, that had to be two guys making a smart play. That was an IQ play.”

One of those guys was Rucker, a 6-4 senior out of Raleigh’s Broughton High School. After struggling to inbound the ball through a maze of waving, outstretched arms, he looked up and found teammate Jamel McAllister racing alone toward the Rams’ basket. He lofted a 70-foot pass, hitting McAllister in stride for a runaway dunk and a five-point WSSU lead.

“I was busy looking right in front of me,” Rucker said. “All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I see this 6-7 guy jumping up and down. It wasn’t the play but it was an option — and he was wide open.”

Smith, a defender on the play, indicated, “Somebody lost their man.”

The outcome wasn’t sealed until Livingstone’s final charge was thwarted. Elmore drove the right baseline for a crowd-pleasing jam with 21 seconds remaining and Smith buried a three from the left corner to trim the deficit to 83-82 with a second to play. Following a WSSU free throw, Ray’s half-court heave at the buzzer fell short.

“Just not enough,” a subdued Ray said afterward. “When we got the lead we thought it was over — and we played that way. That’s what it looked like to me.”

NOTES: CIAA tournament pairings were announced Saturday night. The Blue Bears will meet the winner of Wednesday’s game between Bowie State, the Northern Division’s No. 3 seed and Fayetteville State, the Southern Division’s No. 6 qualifier. Game time Thursday at the Spectrum Center is 9 p.m.. … Livingstone won the rebound battle, 42-33, and shot 17-for-30 from the field in the second half. … Winston-Salem State made 28 of 56 field goal tries, including 10 3-pointers.

WINSTON-SALEM STATE (84) — Colon 22, Crandell 22, McAllister 12, Barnes 10, Rucker 10, Brewer 6, McKoy 2, Fennell, Smith.

LIVINGSTONE (82) — Ray 14, Smith 13, L.Elmore 12, Handley 11, Grant 9, Carpenter 9, N.Elmore 4, McNeill 4, Dupree 4, Harris 2, Fykes, Tate, Parker.

W-S State                39   45 — 84

Livingstone            36   46 — 82