Sea Gulls fall in NCAA tournament first round against Middlebury

Sea Gulls fall in NCAA tournament first round against Middlebury

GALLOWAY, N.J. – For the second week in a row, the No. 24 Salisbury University men's basketball team battled to the final whistle, but saw the last moments of the game go the other way. The Sea Gulls had a chance in the closing moments of their NCAA tournament first round contest against Middlebury College, but the final effort by junior Gordon Jeter was waved off, allowing the Panthers to advance and ending Salisbury's season in a 75-73 contest.

The Sea Gulls (21-7) trailed by 11 at halftime after the Panthers took advantage of their size in the paint, and Salisbury struggled from the floor in the opening 20 minutes. But the Gulls made halftime adjustments that panned out quickly, with junior Justin Witmer and senior Rocky Harris accounting for 11 points during a half-opening 13-6 run, cutting the deficit to five points, 43-38.

Witmer scored eight of the points on a layup and a pair of threes, while Harris also knocked down a three-pointer. In the final 20 minutes of the game, Salisbury buried 7-of-12 from outside the three-point arc.

The Panthers held the lead through the remainder of the game, but would not push the advantage past eight points again.

Strong defense in the post against Matt Daley by Jeter and Kyle Savercool, and Jeter taking advantage of his speed on the offensive end against Daley allowed Salisbury to threaten throughout the second half, cutting the lead to one point twice.

Jeter powered through the low blocks against Zach Baines with 4:54 left, making it 65-63 before the Panthers pushed back ahead by eight, 71-63, but Salisbury would not go away.

Jeter drove the lane again, this time getting past Daley for an easy bucket, and after forcing a miss, the Sea Gulls got the deficit down to three on the final three of the night from Harris. The senior scored 15 in the game, hitting four times from outside.

A Daley layup, on a feed from Matt St. Armour which was just out of the reach of three Sea Gulls' hands, made it 73-68 with 46 seconds left, but it was the last field goal of the night for the Panthers (18-10).

Witmer converted two free throws getting things back to one possession, and senior Justin May got a quick steal. Out of a timeout, Jeter got a clean lane to the basket, and took the easy two, cutting the deficit to 73-72 with 7.9 seconds left.

Salisbury fouled St. Armour, who hit both free throws for the last of his game-high 27 points. With five seconds left, up 75-72, Middlebury opted to foul Straughn, sending him to the line for a 1-and-1 opportunity with under three seconds left.

Straughn hit the first and intentionally missed the second, looking for the tip in. The ball ricocheted out of bounds, with possession to the Sea Gulls, with 0.2 second remaining. Straughn sent the inbounds pass to the front of the rim, where Jeter elevated and sent the ball home for the apparent game-tying shot. But it was ruled that he caught and released the ball, which is not allowed under the rules with less than 0.4 seconds remaining, and the basket was waved off, ending the contest.

Salisbury was led by Witmer and Jeter, who each scored 18 points in the contest. Straughn finished with eight points and five rebounds, while sophomore Chad Barcikowski had  seven off the bench.

The loss brings the end of the careers of Salisbury's six seniors, Savercool, Harris, Straughn, May, Jacoy Gillum, and Bobby Bates. The seniors close their time in maroon and gold, with a Capital Athletic Conference championship and two NCAA tournament appearances.

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