|Winston-Salem State will look avenge Feb. 2’s 75-72 loss to Livingstone on Saturday.|
No. 7 Winston-Salem State (20-4, 7-2) at Livingstone (19-5, 7-2)
After nearly two months of jockeying for position, it all comes down to this. The winner of this game will claim the CIAA’s Southern Division crown and the coveted top seed in next week’s CIAA Tournament.
Livingstone has been perfect this month, winning all five of their contests in Feburary, including a 75-72 win over WSSU on Feb. 2. They are led by Mark Thomas, a sweet shooting guard that averages 18 points per game and shoots nearly 40 percent from the three-point line. Junior Jody Hill is another scorer with breakout potential, as the JUCO transfer has scored 20-plus points in five games.
Winston-Salem State enters Saturday’s game in looking for redemption. WSSU may have ascended to no. 7 in the nation, the school’s highest ranking since coach Bobby Collins was in grade school, but none of that matters now. Livingstone is the only school in the conference WSSU has not defeated this season. WSSU would love nothing more than to head back up US Highway 52 with a win and the tournament’s top seed.
As defending CIAA Tournament champions with eight returning seniors, WSSU was expected to be in this position. Livingstone was not. The Rams have coasted for most of the season, but they will need big games from All-CIAA performers Justin Glover and WyKevin Bazemore. WSSU’s peremiter defenders will have their hands full against Thomas and Hill, who lit the Rams up for 23 points of the bench in Winston-Salem.
But there will be an ingredient in Saturday’s game that was missing from the first meeting between the two teams: pressure.
“There’s been pressure on us all season because of the expectation level,” Collins told the Winston-Salem Journal. “It will be no different in Charlotte, but we are experienced, and the guys have responded to every challenge that’s been put in front of them.”
Based off their depth and experience, you have to like the Rams in this one. They proved in last season’s tournament that the lights weren’t too bright for them. They’ve played this season with a target on their backs and have maintained their composure for the most part. But the Bears won’t be an easy out, especially on their home court. Should be a good one.