As final regular-season games go, the Winston-Salem State-Livingstone game on Saturday afternoon at the Gaines Center had something for everybody.
There were skirmishes between players, plenty of good play from both teams, and one student even donned a referee jersey and ran side by side with one of the officials down the entire court. The game also had an exciting overtime where the fans, some 3,000 strong, stood the entire five minutes.
The Rams grabbed the momentum in the overtime and closed out Senior Day in style with an 82-76 win over the Blue Bears.
“It was pretty incredible,” said Mason Harrell, a Rams’ center and one of four seniors playing in his final game at the Gaines Center. “We couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the season, because now we can head to the (CIAA) tournament next week.”
The Rams had to scramble at the end of regulation just to get the game into the overtime. Down by three with 34 seconds left, Jaylen Alston’s basket cut the lead to 65-64 and after Jalon Lewis of the Blue Bears made one of two free throws with 23 seconds left it was Alston’s drive to the basket for a layup with 11 seconds left that tied the game at 66.
Alston’s basket was set up by a nice pass from Jon Hicklin, but the Rams had to make sure Roger Ray, one of the contenders for the player of the year in the CIAA, didn’t beat them. His last-second short jumper was no good and the Rams had new life and five extra minutes to work with.
Coach Cleo Hill Jr. of the Rams said: “It was a hard fought game with a lot of emotion and we didn’t play it as well as we should have from a tactical standpoint but I think in overtime we saw some toughness and pulled out a huge win for our seniors.”
Rob Colon, a senior who is the school’s seventh leading scorer of all-time, has battled the flu for the last couple of days and hasn’t been able to hold down much food. He scored just six points and was 3 of 10 shooting but also fouled out in the overtime.
Alston, however, along with Hicklin, and senior Julius Barnes came up big in the overtime. Late in the overtime Ray was called for a technical foul after he thought he was pushed out of bounds on an in-bounds play. That technical cost the Blue Bears because Hicklin made it a four-point advantage with 11 seconds to play.
“Jaylen established himself driving to the basket late and that was huge,” Hill said. “Hicklin played well and Mason was very good on both ends of the court so it was a good team win.”
Alston led the way for the Rams with 23 points, six rebounds and three assists. All 23 of his points came in the second half and the overtime.
“Jaylen was grown man,” said Dontae Caldwell, another of the seniors playing in his final game. “He just cleared out and went to the basket and made them pay.”
Alston said in overtime the team realized it needed a win in a big way. “We needed this to go into the tournament on a good note,” he said.
The Rams, who are co-champions with Johnson C. Smith in the Southern Division and finish the regular-season 16-10 overall and 13-4 in the CIAA, will be the second seed in the CIAA Tournament in Charlotte next week. The Rams will play on Thursday night in Charlotte in a quarterfinal.
Coach James Stinson of the Blue Bears, has more than 500 career wins, watched his team lead by as many as 10 in the first half. They led by eight at halftime but the Rams got it together to open the second half on a 12-0 run.
“I think we should have won in regulation and I think sometimes we can be a selfish basketball team and we had some opportunities when we were in the lead,” Stinson said. “It was a credit to them because they stepped it up in the second half, so we are trying to build some momentum for the tournament.”
Ray led the Blue Bears with 31 points and Malik Smith added 14 points and 10 rebounds and Cameron Carpenter added 13 points.
“We had some breakdowns in the second half late and they took advantage,” said Ray, who was an AAU teammate with Colon and they guarded each other a lot of the time. “It’s always fun to play against him.”
Before the game even started Chancellor Elwood Robinson of the WSSU went on the public-address system to tell the student section to be on its best behavior. During pre-game warmups some students got involved with some Blue Bears near the layup line and had to be separated.
There were four technical fouls called during the game and at one point late in the game a police officer had to come out onto the court to help officials separate the two teams.
As the seconds wound down to end the game, Hill and Stinson agreed not to shake hands and both teams went immediately to their locker rooms. Then a wave of students swarmed the court despite the public address announcer (Devin Pass) pleading with them to stay off the court.
“It’s good to see the support,” Hill said about the lively crowd.
As for not having the two teams shake hands afterwards, Hill said it was the right move.
“We made eye contact just before the game ended and we felt it best that we didn’t shake hands and both teams go to their locker rooms,” Hill said. “I thought it was best from a safety standpoint.”
In the women’s game, O’Shae Hatley led a second-half surge as Winston-Salem State beat Livingstone 59-55.
Hatley scored 16 points and had seven rebounds and Brandi Segars added nine points and two assists. The Rams shot 40 percent and outrebounded the Blue Bears 40-29.
“We just wanted to for us seniors and we stuck to the plan and played our style,” said senior Jahlia Williams of the Rams.
Also playing in their final home games of their careers for the Rams were Taylor Daniels, Brandi Segars and Aja Stephens.
The Rams clinched the third seed in the CIAA Tournament and will play Tuesday against Claflin, the No. 7 seed out of the Southern Division.
The Blue Bears, who will be the fourth-seed out of the Southern Division, were led by Darra Walker with 16 points. Adel Allen added 14 points and Daisa Harris had 12 points as the Blue Bears ended their regular-season 13-14 overall and 7-10 in the CIAA.
The Rams finished the regular-season 13-15 overall and 8-9 in the CIAA.