Winston-Salem State will return to the Gaines Center on Saturday for a game for the first time in 25 days.
The Rams will take on St. Augustine’s at 4 p.m. The women’s game will be played at 2 p.m. in a key Southern Division doubleheader.
Because the students are on Christmas break there will be no admission charge for the games.
George Knox, the interim athletics director, said getting more of the community to come to games has been a priority. When the students are on campus the Gaines Center, which seats about 2,800 on a good day, is full and there is few parking spaces available on campus.
“We just think that not charging admission will give the community a chance to see two basketball games so we’re excited about these last couple of games before the break,” Knox said.
Here are five things to know heading into Saturday's games.
1. A good community event
Coach Cleo Hill Jr. of the Rams says not charging for the game will hopefully help fill the building. He joked that it’s a lot better to watch basketball than to go Christmas shopping.
“I think it’s a great thing,” Hill said. “I wanted to try and get something done with the elementary schools in our area, but I just couldn’t pull it off. So at least we are doing this where the community can come see us play.”
Rob Colon said: “It will be good to see more of the community come out. It won’t be as crowded as if our students were here but it will be a good crowd so it’s nice that they aren’t charging admission.”
2. Justice Kithcart’s rhythm
The Rams have been at their best when Kithcart is knocking down shots and also playing at point guard. The Old Dominion transfer missed five games with a knee injury but played in the last two games which were road losses to Virginia State and Virginia Union. In those two games he combined to go 2 of 14 shooting.
Dontae Caldwell said he expects Kitchart to find his shooting touch soon. “He’ll get back into that rhythm,” Caldwell said. “He’s too good not to.”
3. Julius Barnes is day to day
While the Rams are better with the return of Kithcart, they also need a healthy Julius Barnes, a senior point guard who was playing some of his best basketball of his career until a foot injury. Barnes practiced on a limited basis this week, but it’s not known if he’ll play on Saturday.
Colon said the Rams, who are 4-5 overall and 1-0 in the Southern Division, need to get healthy.
“I feel like when we get the whole team back together healthy we are going to be a problem for teams,” Colon said.
4. Must win the home games
Hill has been around the CIAA a long time, first at Shaw, and now at WSSU. If there’s a formula for winning the division it’s about taking care of business at home. The Rams are 4-2 at home so far this season.
“You have to win your home games in this league,” Hill said. “Everybody plays well at home so you have to take care of business at home. The other side of that is trying to win a couple of road games here and there really helps you.”
5. St. Augustine’s update
Coach MarQus Johnson is in his sixth season with the Falcons but they have struggled and are 2-7 overall. The Falcons are 0-3 in the CIAA and are averaging 69 points per game while giving up 75 per game. Jalen Gaddy leads them in scoring at 14.3 points a game and Gary Jefferson averages 12.1 points per game.
The two schools split last season with the Rams winning in Raleigh 63-57 with the Falcons winning at the Gaines Center 68-51.
“Against St. Aug’s we have to come out focused and be ready to run because we are undersized and they aren’t that big either so we’ll have to get those transition points,” Colon said.