SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University men's basketball team advanced to the Capital Athletic Conference championship game for the first time under Head Coach Josh Merkel with a 59-52 win over the University of Mary Washington on Thursday night at Maggs Physical Activities Center. It is the first time since the 2005-'06 season that the Gulls will play in the CAC title contest.
The Sea Gulls opened the game on an 8-0 run, beginning with a three from the right wing by sophomore Justin Witmer. Junior Wyatt Smith netted the next five points to cap the run, first on a hook shot in the paint, before hitting a three from the top of the key.
Junior Kyle Savercool pushed the lead to double digits, 15-5, with a three at the top of the arc with the shot clock winding down. He followed with a long-range make from the left wing on the Gulls' next possession to keep the lead in double figures at 11.
Salisbury held its lead over the next several minutes, but the Eagles cut the lead to five with 6:23 remaining in the first half after a 7-0 spurt, making the score 23-18.
Smith answered with a three-point play, converting a layup on the left side of the lane, taking the contact, and hitting the subsequent free throw, before Savercool followed with a layup on the right side to regain a 10-point lead, 28-18.
Junior Adrien Straughn hit two layups in the final minutes of the half to help give Salisbury a 34-24 lead at the break.
In the first half, Smith led the Sea Gulls with 13 points, hitting all five of his field goals and pulling down four rebounds. Salisbury was leading the margin on the boards 16-14 and was shooting 48.3 percent from the floor.
Smith began the second half with a layup and a jump shot for a 38-24 lead. Mary Washington got to within eight, but a left-corner three from Savercool and a left-wing three from Straughn pushed the advantage back to 12.
Another jumper from Smith gave the Gulls a 46-35 lead, but the Eagles answered with an 8-0 run to cut the lead to four and force an SU timeout with 8:52 remaining.
Out of the timeout, Smith got out on the break and drove left for a layup, sparking an 8-4 stretch for the Gulls, which included another layup from Smith and a three from Witmer, who dribbled left to right around the arc, shook his defender, and stepped back to drain the shot.
Following a Smith foul shot, Salisbury held a 54-46 lead with 3:35 left.
In the final three and a half minutes, the SU defense clamped down to hold Mary Washington to only six points, while hitting five free throws to punch its ticket to the CAC championship.
Smith led the way with his eighth double-double of the season with 24 points and 14 rebounds, while Savercool chipped in with 11.
Second-seeded Salisbury now moves on to host the CAC championship game, taking on fourth-seeded Christopher Newport University, which defeated top-seeded St. Mary's College of Maryland in the other semifinal contest; the game is set for Saturday, February 28 at 4:30 p.m.