|Final month of CIAA promises to go down to wire|
|Four teams tied for first in South Division|
|Published Thursday, January 30, 2014 8:21 am|
One thing is clear with a month to go before the CIAA basketball tournament: The South is wide open.
|Johnson C. Smith guard LaMarquis Letchaw (5) goes up for a shot against Livingstone’s Christian Henry on Jan. 25. The Golden Bulls won 76-73 to force a four-way tie atop the CIAA South.|
Four teams are 2-1 in division games and are within a game of each other in the conference, which sets up a wild February. Winston-Salem State and Livingstone, the preseason favorites, have one loss each, while Johnson C. Smith and Fayetteville State have been surprisingly strong. St. Augustine’s and Shaw is in the rear with a combined 1-5 division record.
“It’s certainly a Southern Division tournament type atmosphere,” JCSU coach Steve Joyner said after his Golden Bulls stopped Livingstone 76-73 on Jan. 25.
Winston-Salem State (11-8, 6-3 CIAA) has been much better against league foes than its overall record indicates. The Rams and JCSU square off on Jan. 30 in Winston-Salem, with the winner locking down first place in the division. Marquez Jones leads the Rams in scoring at 19.6 points a game and forward Wykevin Bazemore hauls down a league-leading nine rebounds an outing.
Livingstone (12-6, 5-4) was expected to be a bit more dominant, but the Blue Bears are in position to go on a late-season run. Mark Thomas (18 points per game) is an underrated guard who can take over on both ends of the floor and running mate Jody Hill is the Blue Bears’ leading scorer at 18.5 points and connects on 42.5 percent of his three-point shots. Livingstone lost to JCSU last week on the road, but meet again on Feb. 15 in Salisbury.
After going 1-4 on a brutal road trip to start January, the Golden Bulls regained equilibrium in Charlotte with wins against St. Augustine’s and Livingstone. Forward Emilio Parks, JCSU’s top scorer at 17.9 ppg, is a candidate for player of the year while LaMarquis Letchaw has added a dynamic presence as a scorer (15.2 ppg) and passer (4.1 assists). If the point guard platoon of Richard Daniels and Dre Huntley becomes more consistent offensive threats, Smith might be onto something.
“We cannot rest on this because we’ve got the rest of the league to go,” Joyner said. “We’ve got a tough Winston, we’ve got a tough Shaw and we’ve got to get one back from Fayetteville (only division loss) and we’ve got to go back to Livingstone. It’s too early to rest on our laurels.”
Fayetteville State might be the CIAA’s biggest surprise. Long a doormat, the Broncos are playing relative basketball behind forward Tyrrel Tate, who averages 18.6 points per game on 51.3 percent shooting. Torian Showers is the only other Bronco averaging double-digit scoring at 10.1 points, reflecting FSU’s reliance on defense to wear opponents down.
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