Livingstone Men Advance to CIAA Quarterfinals With Thrilling 60-58 Upset Victory Over Virginia State
CHARLOTTE – Mark Thomas played the role of hero as Livingstone defeated Virginia State in a thriller, 60-58, on Wednesday night in the first round of the CIAA Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena.
With the Blue Bears trailing, 58-57, Thomas stole the inbounds pass and drove to the lane and threw up a shot as he was being fouled by Devonte Williams. Thomas’ shot went in and he completed the three-point play with 13 seconds remaining to give Livingstone a 60-58 advantage.
Virginia State still had one more opportunity to potential tie or win the game. However, Williams’ 3-pointer at the buzzer hit the iron and fell away to give the Blue Bears the win.
Livingstone, which won its first game of the season after trailing at halftime, advances to face Northern Division top seed Bowie State at 3 p.m., on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the CIAA Tournament. Winner of that game will play the either Johnson C. Smith or Elizabeth City State in Friday’s semifinal game at 7 p.m.
The Blue Bears lost in the first matchup to the Bulldogs, 69-64, on Jan. 16.
“I think the experienced helped us a bit, but our inability to finish games kind of hurt us tonight,” Livingstone head coach James Stinson Jr., said. “I am pleased with how we played and we beat a solid team. Our emphasis was to go inside and try to create foul opportunities.”
Nasir Austin paced Livingstone (11-16) with 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting, including going 8-of-9 from the foul line. He also added seven rebounds and a pair of blocks. Trone Jackson finished with 10 points, seven boards, two assists and a pair of steals.
“All year we go through battles like this,” Austin said. “We are not finished with our journey.”
Livingstone, winners of three out of its last four games, raced out to a small 6-2 lead after Austin, who was named the game’s MVP, completed a three-point play with 17:59 remaining in the first half. However, Virginia State answered with a 10-3 run, capped when Mike Bynum sank a jumper with 11:51 left.
The Blue Bears, who avenged a 58-54 loss to Virginia State on Jan. 12, responded with a 6-0 spurt to grab a 15-12 advantage after a pair of Austin free throws with 10:04 left, but a 3-pointer by Richard Hall tied the game at 15 with 9:53 remaining.
The Trojans, who entered the game having won five out of their last six games, broke open the 15-all tie by closing the first half on an 11-7 run to take a 26-22 advantage into the break.
The Blue Bears came out for the second half fired up and used a 22-8 run during the first 10 minutes to grab a 44-36 lead after a Mark Thomas layup with 9:46 left. The Trojans answered back and closed the deficit to 44-41 as Kevin Wiggins and Bynum scored on buckets with 8:43 remaining.
A 3-pointer by Bynum with 6:22 remaining tied the game at 44, but the Trojans went cold from the field and Livingstone took advantage.
The Blue Bears quickly responded with a furious 11-0 run as Livingstone got baskets by Austin, Omar Ford-Bey and Mark Thomas and Jackson to give Livingstone a 55-44 advantage with 3:15 left.
Virginia State, which went more than three minutes without a bucket from the field, rallied and cut the deficit to 57-56 after a 3-pointer from the right wing by Bynum with 50 seconds left. The Trojans took a 58-57 lead on a Bynum jumper from the left corner with 33 seconds remaining.
That set the stage for a wild final 30 seconds as the Blue Bears turned the ball over, but Mark Thomas was able to get the steal and complete the three-point play for the come-from-behind win.
“I just came around the man to make the steal,” Thomas said.
Bynum led Virginia State (8-19) with 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Rassoull and Mitchell had 11 and 10 points, respectively as the Trojans were 23-of-60 from the floor for 38 percent.
“This is a tough way to end the season,” Virginia State head coach Darryl Jacobs said. “It came down to one execution and one play. As a program we have made tremendous strides. They (Livingstone) played really hard. I felt Mike (Bynum) was the only guy that hit some shots and kept us in the game. They (Livingstone) were more aggressive than us. I though the bench did a decent job. We just didn’t defend in the second half.”
The Blue Bears, who shot 43 percent (20-of-47) out-scored the Trojans in the paint, 28-24, and 20-6 in bench points.