CHARLOTTE, N.C – Saint Augustine’s is rolling after head coach Marqus Johnson made a change.
After three consecutive losses, Johnson started seniors Tayron Gibson and Jon Koger this week.
The move resulted in a two-game winning streak including a thrilling 90-88 CIAA victory over Johnson C. Smith University in Brayboy Gymnasium on Wednesday.
Picked to finish sixth in the Southern Division, the Falcons (4-3 Southern Division, 11-12 overall) suddenly find themselves in the thick of a divisional race. They are in sole possession of third place and only one game behind co-leaders Livingstone College and Winston-Salem State.
The Falcons seemed headed in the opposite direction after losing 71-53 to Virginia State last week.
“Everybody is buying into their role now,” Falcons’ guard Raheem Jolliffe said.
The victory carried over to Wednesday night against Johnson C. Smith (3-4 Southern Division, 12-12 overall).
Despite trailing most of the contest, the Falcons rallied on the road in legendary Brayboy Gymnasium, one of the toughest places for a visiting team to win. The Falcons snapped their two-game losing streak at Brayboy, and they swept the Golden Bulls in the regular season for the first time in five years.
Guard Anthony Gaskins led the way with 24 points and four assists, and Jolliffe added 20 points and three assists. They were two of several players who stepped up Wednesday.
Forward Quincy January finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds. He had several crowd-pleasing dunks and scored the eventual game-winning layup with 1:02 left. His bucket gave the Falcons an 89-88 lead, and they held on when Gaskins added a free throw and the Golden Bulls committed a turnover in the final 20 seconds.
Gibson nearly recorded a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds. Koger chipped in three points, two assists and two rebounds while inspiring teammates with his energy on the court.
The play of the starters rubbed off on the bench. Guard Keith Crawford had seven points and three assists and forward Marquis Hines added four points and six rebounds. Guard Nick Tennell contributed four points.
Johnson says the Falcons are playing with a new attitude since he tinkered with the starting lineup. Three of the five starters are seniors.
“The seniors don’t want to lose,” Johnson said. “They are playing with a sense of urgency.”
January, a first-year player, says watching the seniors motivates him to play well. He recorded his fifth double-double of the season against the Golden Bulls.
“It makes me want to go hard for my team,” January said. “I don’t want to disappoint them.”
The Falcons trailed 46-42 at halftime, but the Golden Bulls increased their lead to 54-45 early in the second half.
Led by Gaskins and Jolliffe, the Falcons eventually led 72-71. Their margin stretched to seven points with less than five minutes remaining before the Golden Bulls went on a run of their own.
The Golden Bulls regained the lead at 86-85 with 2:38 remaining. The lead changed twice before January put the Falcons ahead for good.
“Right now, we are gelling,” Johnson said. “Our guys are buying in. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
Gaskins scored 16 points and Jolliffe added 14 points in the second half for the Falcons.
Stedmon Lemon scored 21 points overall for the Golden Bulls, who had four double-figure scorers. Emilio Parks added 19 points and 11 rebounds.