|CIAA’s dormats moving on up|
|Lincoln (Pa.), Livingstone now contenders|
|Published Wednesday, February 13, 2013 12:15 pm|
The CIAA’s underdogs are showing some fight.
Lincoln (Pa.) and Livingstone have been more competitive than expected this season, rewarding long-suffering fans and alumni a taste of excitement while shaking up the league standings. With two weeks left in the regular season, Lincoln was second in the North Division while Livingstone was third in the South. Both programs have taken their knocks as bottom feeders and converted them into a formula for success.
“What teams do and what coaches do is look around at what other people are doing and see what they have to do to get their programs up to those levels,” Johnson C. Smith coach Steve Joyner said.
Livingstone has been an especially tough opponent with wins against preseason South Division favorite Winston-Salem State and No. 2 pick Shaw. The Blue Bears (15-5, 7-4 CIAA as of Feb. 7) are led by Mark Thomas (16.7 points per game) and Jody Hill (15.4 ppg) who pace a veteran group that has grown together.
“With this team, they really are a team,” Livingstone coach James Stinson said. “They care about each other. They cry when they lose; they’re happy for each other when they win. They’ve executed and taken care of the ball.”
At Lincoln, which returned to the CIAA three years ago, the Lions had to grow into Division II status after moving up from Division III. The Lions struggled to attract quality athletes during the transition but have turned the corner as the North’s second-place team. Five players average double figures, led by guards Kenny Sharpe (16.1 points per game) and George Jackson (13.7).
“The first year I had to pretty much take what I had going through the NCAA (transition) phase,” Lincoln coach John Hill said. “We’re off probation now and just able to get a couple of kids. We’re better, but I believe there’s still more room for growth. We’re at a point where we can compete and have a chance to win on a night to night basis.”
The Lions were especially good at it early in the season, raising eyebrows through the league with an 8-2 start that included a win against Division I Howard in the opener.
“You change the culture from top to bottom,” Hill said. “Obviously, you’ve got to get young people who come from winning programs so they know what it’s like to win and that’s the expectation. Changing the culture by bringing in a different type of player and along with that foster an atmosphere within the program that advocates winning on a night to night basis.”
Attitudes have changed at Livingstone as well. The Blue Bears opened 11-1 and a 75-72 win against nationally ranked Winston-Salem State on Feb. 2 was the high point of the regular season. The players have bought into Stinson’s mantra of playing for team glory over individual accomplishment. Of course, having good players who excel academically (3.0 grade point average) helps.
“We’ve gotten the commitment from our players to say we’re going to turn this program around,” Stinson said. “They’ve always been building, but now we’ve kind of found the remedy to be successful on this level.”
Said Joyner: “They care about their program, they care about their school. They’re showing a lot of competitiveness and camaraderie within their team and doing all the things necessary to put together a good basketball team and they’re going to be tough to beat going down the road.”
That’s what both programs are aiming for when tournament time rolls around at the end of the month.
“They’re a real threat and anyone who thinks they aren’t (is) sadly mistaken,” Joyner said. “They have some kids that can really play.”
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