Crunch time was a bad time for J.C. Smith basketball last season.
The Golden Bulls were 2-8 in games decided by five points or less, a major flaw in an 11-17 campaign that ended in the first round of the CIAA tournament. To turn the tables, J.C. Smith has to figure how to finish.
“We lost quite a few close encounters, not only in Brayboy (Gym), but away from Brayboy last year,” Golden Bulls coach Steve Joyner said Thursday at the league’s media day in Charlotte. “We were quite competitive, but maybe not quite cohesive enough to pull out those games.”
Entering a new season, J.C. Smith was picked to finish fourth in the CIAA South Division preseason poll behind favored Winston-Salem, Shaw and Fayetteville State. In the Northern Division, Virginia State was the top pick, followed by Bowie State, Virginia Union and Chowan.
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The Golden Bulls have one of the league’s best backcourts in preseason All-CIAA guards Robert Davis and Christian Kirchman. Davis averaged a team-best 17.4 points and 3.1 assists, and Kirchman averaged 11.5 points and 3.1 assists. Cayse Minor (6.6 ppg, 2.8 apg) provides depth.
The frontcourt is in rebuilding mode with Malik Ford, a 6-foot-9 center who averaged 4.7 points and 2.6 assists last season, and Arthur Bennett the incumbents. Newcomers are Roddic Ross, a 6-7 transfer from Caldwell Community College, and 6-8 Jonathan Curtis, a transfer from Queens who can play power forward or center.
“Our effort is to get back on track,” Joyner said. “Last year, we were critically injured, we had two knee surgeries to key players who play the post position. They’re healing and we hope to be back on track.”
With eight returning players on the 16-player roster, J.C. Smith has a mix of youth and experience. If they play to expectations, Joyner insists they’ll be better than fourth in the South, where they were 3-7 against division foes last season.
“It is a beginning point to give us information about how people think about you and how they see you,” he said. “What’s more important for us is how we see ourselves and that’s what we’ve focused on in the spring through the summer and coming into school. To some degree, it’s an uncharacteristic position for us to be in, but a real position.”
In the women’s preseason poll, reigning CIAA champion J.C. Smith was picked as the league’s top team. In the Southern Division, Golden Bulls are followed by Shaw, Livingstone and Winston-Salem State.
J.C. Smith is led by senior forward Blaire Thomas, the MVP in last season’s tournament, and sophomore guard Malia Rivers.
Virginia Union was picked to win the Northern Division, with Bowie State and Virginia State the top challengers.