CHARLOTTE, N.C. — CIAA Player of the Year Mark Thomas scored 28 points and Jody Hill added 14 points as Livingstone College survived a late Fayetteville State run for a 79-73 men’s basketball semi-final win at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday, February 28 to reach the CIAA Tournament finals for the second consecutive year.
The Blue Bears (20-7 overall) will play for the CIAA title tonight at 8:30 p.m. They are aiming for their first conference crown in school history.
The backcourt duo led the Blue Bears in double figures. Food Lion MVP Emarri Bailey had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Eric Mayo finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Anthony Welch scored 10 points and snatched eight rebounds, and Hill pulled down seven rebounds.
The Blue Bears, the Southern Division champions, held a huge advantage at the free-throw line. They made 24-of-38 free-throws compared to 9-of-15 for the Broncos. In the last five minutes, the Blue Bears hit 10-of-16 free-throws to stave off the Broncos.
Mayo made two big free-throws. He swished one of two at the charity stripe for a 76-73 Blue Bears lead with 23 seconds left. After coming up with a huge steal, Mayo made one of two free-throws for a 77-73 lead with 20 seconds remaining.
The Blue Bears survived after the Broncos (19-10 overall) reeled off 18 straight points to erase a 62-49 deficit. A jumper by Tyrell Tate from the left corner put the Broncos up 67-62 with 6:39 left in the game.
“Fatigue started to set in,” Livingstone Head Coach James Stinson said about his team during that stretch. “If you miss, [the Broncos] are running a layup drill.”
The lead was short-lived, however, as Tate fouled out with 4:27 left. Welch made one of two free-throws, but a tie gave the Blue Bears possession. Thomas put the Blue Bears back in front 68-67 with his sixth three-pointer of the game. The Blue Bears then held on at the free-throw line.
“At the end [Livingstone] finished strong, but I am proud of our kids,” Fayetteville State Head Coach Alphonza Kee said. “We fought back through the 38 free-throws [that Livingstone shot].”
Tate scored 19 points and collected eight rebounds for the Broncos, the third seed out of the Southern Division. Joshua Dawson added 13 points and Anthony Shelton chipped in 11 points.
The contest featured seven ties and 12 lead changes including five ties and nine lead changes in the first half. Travis Marcus scored four points and Torian Showers had three points to give the Broncos a 7-5 lead early. The Blue Bears quickly led 17-12 on a jumper by Eric Dubose.
The Broncos gained momentum and built a 29-23 lead on a layup by Travis Marcus off a steal by Marquette Hill. The Blue Bears came roaring back, going on an 8-1 run on a drive by Thomas for a 31-30 lead. The Broncos ended up leading at halftime 35-33 on Sheldon’s three-pointer with 13 seconds left in the first half.
Hill and Thomas both scored 10 first-half points for the Blue Bears. Shelton had 11 points for the Broncos in the opening 20 minutes.
The Blue Bears started fast in the second half, taking a 40-35 lead after scoring seven consecutive points capped by a Thomas three-pointer. Tate stopped the run momentarily with a three-point play, but Welch scored a three-pointer to begin a 17-4 run for a 57-42 lead. Thomas scored eight points in the run including two tries.