Sea Gulls win first CAC title in 18 years behind late-game surge

Sea Gulls win first CAC title in 18 years behind late-game surge

SALISBURY, Md. – Trailing by six with only 1:45 remaining in the game, the second-seeded Salisbury University men's basketball team was looking for a spark, and junior Adrien Straughn provided it, nailing a three-point shot from the left corner and beginning a 7-0 game-ending run to bring the Sea Gulls their first Capital Athletic Conference championship since the 1995-'96 season with a 58-57 victory over fourth-seeded Christopher Newport University on Saturday evening in Maggs Physical Activities Center.

After taking a charge on the opposite end to regain possession for the Gulls, Straughn drove right for a layup to bring Salisbury to within one point, 57-56.

The Sea Gull defense clamped down on CNU on its final possession, forcing an off-balance, contested three-pointer with the shot clock running down, which was pulled down on the boards by junior Wyatt Smith, after which, senior Conor Strickland lofted a pass to Smith on the left side of the paint with time running down. Smith went up for the layup, and with 0.7 seconds left, was fouled and sent to the line for two shots.

After a Captains timeout, Smith stood at the line with the game in his hands. After hitting the first shot, he drained the second, bringing the CAC title back to Salisbury for the first time in 18 seasons. With the Salisbury women's team taking its respective CAC championship earlier in the day, it marks the first time since the 1991-'92 season that the same school won both basketball championships, when Marymount (Va.) University accomplished the feat.

The Sea Gulls trailed for much of the first half to start the game, but in their first late-half push of the evening, Salisbury used a 7-1 run in the final 2:55 of the first half to take a one-point lead into halftime.

Trailing 25-20, junior Kyle Savercool got things started with a made foul shot. Following a CNU free throw, Strickland converted on a layup, before he found Jeter on the right side of the rim on the Gulls' next possession, who threw down a two-handed dunk, bringing Salisbury to within one.

Again with the clock winding down, Jeter finished a layup with the buzzer sounding for a 27-26 advantage at the half. At the break, Jeter was leading the Gulls with eight points, while CNU held a slight edge in the rebounding, 18-17.

Junior Rocky Harris gave the Gulls a four-point lead to start the second half, hitting a three from the right wing, and after a Captains' bucket, he hit two free throws to regain the edge, 32-28.

Christopher Newport took back the lead 33-32, and the teams traded leads four more times, before the Captains held a 40-38 advantage with 11:39 remaining.

The Sea Gulls would not allow CNU to pull away, as six points from Jeter and four points from Smith, including the pair combining for four big shots from the charity stripe, kept the Gulls to within five or less points over the next 10 minutes, before SU's late-game heroics to take the title.

With the win, Salisbury reached the 20-win mark for the first time since the 1996-'97 season. That season was also the last time that the program advanced to the NCAA tournament, which the Gulls will move on to with the CAC's automatic bid this season.

Jeter paced the Sea Gulls with 14 points, while Smith added 12 and Straughn chipped in 10 off the bench. Smith led the team with eight rebounds, while Strickland led with six assists.

Salisbury now looks to the NCAA Division III men's basketball Selection Show on Monday, March 2. The show is set for 12:30 p.m. Log on to www.suseagulls.com for more information on Salisbury men's basketball and the schools 21 varsity sports, as it becomes available.

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