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East Stroudsburg edges Livingstone in NCAA playoff opener

Published On: Mar 15 2014 07:42:28 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 15 2014 09:40:57 PM CDT

East Stroudsburg edges Livingstone in NCAA playoff opener

EAST STROUDSBURG – Junior guard Whis Grant scored 29 points to lead five double-figure scorers and No. 2-ranked East Stroudsburg University secured the second NCAA postseason win in program history with a 99-98 victory over Livingstone in the first round of the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional on Saturday night at Koehler Fieldhouse.

ESU (29-1), the Atlantic Region’s No. 1 seed and regional host for the first time in program history, advances to face the winner of tonight’s fourth first-round game between No. 4-seed Charleston and No. 5 Gannon.

Mark Thomas scored 36 points and Jody Hill, Jr. had 29 for Livingstone (21-8), the CIAA tournament champion, which scored the final nine points after ESU led 99-89 with 2:48 left, but the Warriors held on.

Thomas missed a jumper, pressured by Grant, with three seconds left and senior forward Zechariah Runkle grabbed the last of his career-high 15 rebounds to secure the victory.

Earlier in the day, No. 3-seed IUP posted a 75-68 win over West Chester, and No. 2-seed West Liberty, the three-time regional champion, won 88-72 over Glenville State.

The victory is ESU’s first NCAA postseason win since 1990 and comes by the same score. The Warriors outlasted Slippery Rock, 99-98 (OT), in an East Region semifinal game at Mercyhurst in Erie, Pa.

Freshman forward Rasheed Moore had 18 points and seven rebounds, redshirt junior guard Will Brown scored 16 points off the bench, junior point guard Matt Tobin had 11 points and 11 assists for his fourth double-double of the year and sophomore guard Jamal Nwaniemeka – the PSAC Tournament MVP last Sunday – had 10 points for the Warriors.

The entire contest was played at a frenetic pace and included just 24 turnovers – 10 by Livingstone and 14 by ESU – just the second time the Warriors have committed more turnovers than their opponents this season. ESU leads DII in turnover margin (+7.7) entering the NCAA Tournament.

ESU led by as many as 13 points (67-54) in the second half before Livingstone climbed back to tie the game at 83-all with 7:26 remaining.

The Warriors stretched their lead back to 10 (99-89) with 2:48 left, including a 6-0 surge sparked by a three-point play by Tobin, but Livingstone had a final push.

Thomas hit a three-pointer with 2:08 left, knocked down three free throws at the 1:20 mark to make it 99-95, and drilled another three after an ESU turnover to bring the Blue Bears within 99-98 with 47 seconds left.

A layup by Grant was waved off on an offensive goaltend with 15 seconds left, and after a Livingstone timeout, Thomas pulled up for a jumper from the wing that came up short.