CHARLOTTE, N.C. – One of the nation’s top-ranked defensive teams, Winston-Salem State clamped down to upend Livingstone 71-52 in a CIAA men’s basketball quarterfinal victory at the Spectrum Center on Thursday.
The Rams (17-10 overall) will meet Claflin in the semifinals Friday in a 9 p.m. nightcap. Winston-Salem State is the CIAA Southern Division co-champion and the division’s No. 2 seed, and Claflin is the No. 4 seed in the Southern Division. The Blue Bears, seeded sixth in the Southern Division, concluded their season at 13-17 overall.
A stout defensive effort by the Rams keyed their quarterfinal win. The Rams, the CIAA’s top defensive squad, kept the Blue Bears off-balance in limiting them to 29.1 percent shooting. They did an especially good job on CIAA Player of the Year Roger Ray, who leads the conference in scoring.
Ray entered the contest averaging 23.7 points, but he suffered through a 3 of 19 shooting night for 11 points. He was 0 of 6 from the three-point line. An 82.5 percent free-throw shooter, Ray was 5 of 10 from the charity stripe.
Winston-Salem State Head Coach Cleo Hill, Jr. credited Robert Colon, Xavier Fennell and a host of other defenders in slowing down Ray.
“[Livingstone] played a tough game the night before, and we thought he might be a little tired,” said Hill, Jr., whose Rams rank eighth nationally in Division II in field goal percentage defense.
The Rams experienced their own shooting woes as well but heated up during a stretch in the second half to grab control of the game. Julius Barnes hit two three-pointers and Fennell added another trey to push their lead to 44-30 with 10 minutes left.
The Blue Bears mounted a brief run after the margin stretched to 18 points, but their frigid shooting was too much to overcome.
“[Winston-Salem State] did a tremendous job of taking away our No. 1 option,” Livingstone Head Coach James Stinson said. “Hats off to Winston-Salem State.”
Jaylen Alston led four double-figure scorers with 17 points and added nine rebounds. The trio of Colon, Julius Barnes and Fennell each added 10 points for the Rams, who shot 40.7 percent. Mason Harrell had seven points and 11 rebounds.
Lydell Elmore scored 15 points to lead the Blue Bears. Malik Smith scored 11 points and had seven rebounds.
Both teams started slowly in the highly-charged matchup between the Southern Division teams, but the Rams created some distance for themselves midway in the half. The score was tied 14-14 before a 10-3 run by the Rams gave them a late seven-point lead.
The Rams maintained a working margin into halftime as they led 27-21 at the break. WSSU neutralized Ray, holding him to four points on 1 of 8 shooting as they put different defenders on him. Ray also picked up three fouls in the first half.
Colon scored six points to lead the Rams, who made 33.3 percent of their shots. Harrell and Fennell each had five points off the bench and Harrell added six rebounds.
Elmore of Livingstone led all scorers with eight first-half points. Smith totaled five points and five rebounds for the Blue Bears, who shot 26.9 percent.