CIAA Tournament: Livingstone 60, Virginia State 58: Thomas wins it for Blue Bears
By Ricky Rogers
CHARLOTTE — After losing an 11-point lead in the final three minutes Wednesday, the Livingstone men’s basketball won a thriller 60-58 over Virginia State to advance to the quarterfinals of the CIAA Tournament hosted at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Down 58-57 in the final seconds, Mark Thomas’ steal and eventual 3-point play was the difference.
Junior Nasir Austin led the Blue Bears with 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Trone Jackson finished with 10 points and also had seven boards.
With the victory, the Blue Bears will now face the Bowie State Bulldogs at 3 p.m. today. The Bulldogs are the top seed out of the Northern Division and are yet to play in the tournament.
The Blue Bears held a 55-44 lead with 3:15 to play after Jackson converted two free throws. Virginia State started its comeback with an old-fashioned 3-point- play and Livingstone aided the Trojan run by converting only 2-of-6 free-throw attempts in the final two minutes.
Going into the final minute, the Blue Bears held a 57-53, but five-straight points by the Trojans gave them a one-point lead with 34 seconds left. After a Livingstone timeout, Thomas lost control of the ball and gave it back to Virginia State.
After another Livingstone timeout, the Trojans went to inbound the ball. This time, Thomas made up for his earlier mistake, sneaking around the Trojan forward, stealing the ball and laying it up for a good two points. He was fouled in the process and converted the free throw to give the Blue Bears a 60-58 lead. Virginia State, who was out of timeouts, had a decent look at to win, but the shot was short and the Blue Bears survived.
Livingstone found itself in a fierce battle from the beginning. The game was tied at20 with 7:03 remaining, but Virginia State went on a 6-2 run over the final seven minutes to take a 26-22 lead into halftime.
The Blue Bears jumped out quickly to start the second half, tying it up at 26 just over three minutes in. The two teams then traded a few buckets and a three-pointer by Jackson gave the Blue Bears a little breathing room, 35-31 with 13:18 left in the game.
Livingstone increased its lead to as much as 44-36 before Virginia State went on an 8-0 run to tie the game at 44-44 with 6:24 remaining. Livingstone responded with an 11-0 run to go up 55-44 with 3:15 left before Virginia State made another comeback.