SALISBURY — For a split second, the basketball rolled around the entire rim as a big Martin Luther King Day crowd at New Trent Gym held its collective breath.
The buzzer sounded and the red backboard lights came to life and unfortunately for Livingstone, the ball fell into the goal, lifting Morehouse to an 81-80, overtime victory.
The Maroon Tigers were a fitting opponent for the celebratory afternoon contest, as Morehouse's most famous alumnus is the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"It was a great atmosphere to play in, but a tough one," said Morehouse coach Grady Brewer. "We wanted to give our kids an idea of how it is on the road in a tough environment. And we look to build on this and continue the "Dream Challenge" between the CIAA and SIAC — on Dr. King's birthday."
Coach James Stinson's Blue Bears appeared poised for an exciting win in the back-and-forth game, when forward Jimmy Wilson's layup gave them an 80-79 lead with 16.6 seconds left.
After a timeout, Morehouse started its final possession and eventually got the ball to Keyshaun Jacobs, a guard who had played just three minutes all day. Jacobs' 3-point attempt from the deep left corner bounded out, but forward Kivon Taylor followed with an off-balance layup that teased the crowd before falling in to win the game.
It was a tough loss for Livingstone (5-10) but a solid win for the Tigers, now 9-5.
"We came close, but no cigar," said Stinson. "The atmosphere was great and it was an opportunity for our team to get better, playing against a very talented, well-organized basketball team. But we had a lack of execution on several aspects, like not rebounding well enough and not making free throws."
Confirming Stinson's analysis, the Blue Bears sank just nine of 19 free throws (46 percent), including a 1-for-5 performance in overtime. Livingstone lost the extra period, 8-7.
Livingstone also had 17 turnovers, two in overtime, including a crucial one when leading, 78-77, with possession of the ball with 30 seconds remaining. Morehouse's Martravious Little stole the inbounds pass and went in for an easy layup, flipping the one-point lead to the visitors' advantage.
The overtime loss also overshadowed a heroic 3-point buzzer-beating jumper from guard Roger Ray that tied the game at 73-73, at the end of regulation.
After a very tight second half, Morehouse had forged ahead at 71-69 with 2:19 left. Two free throws by Morehouse and one by the Blue Bears down the stretch set up Ray's game-tying bomb, out of a Livingstone timeout with 3.3 seconds remaining.
Some fans briefly stormed the court, mobbing Ray, before realizing that the game was only tied.
The Tigers led at halftime, 39-38, rebounding from a 24-3 Livingstone run.
Struggling at the start of the game to a 10-0 deficit, the Blue Bears got their offense going behind Wilson, Joe Lundy and Cameron Burhannon. Livingstone raced out to a 24-13 lead at the half's 8:45-mark before the Tigers chipped away and caught the Blue Bears by halftime.
"We have our spurts where we can actually go after people," said Stinson, about the 24-3 run. "We can get execution and score and then after a while, we'll start to go one-on-one and then the lead starts slipping away from us.
"Personal success, in a team sport, sometimes leads you down the wrong road," continued Stinson. "And it can be humbling — if you take it that way. But I see us getting a little bit better every day."
Brewer said the runs are something his team must improve on. "We punched first and they came back and punched us," he said. "I'm glad our kids just kept sticking to it, but we're going to have to go back to the lab and figure out a way to reduce our opponents' runs."
Burhannon, a 6-3 sophomore wing, may have had his best game as a Blue Bear, making 10-of-20 shots and leading the scoring with 21 points. He also had five rebounds and three assists.
Wilson followed with 15 points and nine rebounds. Ray and Ramel Belfield each scored nine points for Livingstone.
Tyrius Walker led Morehouse with 21 points, while Little scored 14 and Ayinde Russell and Omar Alston added 13 each.
While the Blue Bears struggled at the foul line, Morehouse made 15-of-25 (60 percent). The teams were very even from the floor, the Tigers making 32-of-71 while Livingstone made 32 of 69 shots.
"It was a great day, with Dr. King's school being here," said Stinson, "but it would have been, of course, even better had we won the game."