BY RICKY POLLITT
With the snow preventing some Salisbury University fans from attending the game, it certainly did not stop the men’s basketball team from continuing their journey and reaching the Capital Athletic Conference Championship game for the first time in nine years.
The Sea Gulls defeated Mary Washington 59-52 at Maggs Physical Activities Center to give head coach Josh Merkel his first conference title appearance since taking over as head coach of the Sea Gulls in 2011.
“Win number twenty is our goal,” Merkel said. “There’s really no emotion, we’re just ready to play another game.”
After starting the game on an 8-0 run, the Sea Gulls dominated the first half, and were able to grab a 10-point lead going into halftime. Junior forward Wyatt Smith led all players with 13 points in the first half and went on to record his eighth double-double of the season with 24 points and 14 rebounds.
“I just keep my energy up and realize if you put yourself in the positions, box out and take care of the little things, the ball finds you,” Smith said. “Emotionally it’s a good feeling, but I don’t feel satisfied until we get the job done.”
Despite a dominant start to the game, Salisbury never could put the Eagles away. Midway through the second half, Mary Washington cut the Sea Gulls’ lead to four points and had several fans on the edge of their seats.
With two layups from Smith, and a swished shot from behind the arc from sophomore guard Justin Witmer, Salisbury was able to regain their double-digit lead with just over three minutes left in the game.
“As long as we focus in, play defense and treat every possession like it’s the start of the game, everything will work out,” Smith said.
Along with the high powered offense, Salisbury’s defense was able to shut down the Eagles when they needed to most. The Sea Gulls crashed the boards as well and finished with 36 rebounds and scored 11 points off of second-chance buckets.
“It started on the defensive end, we were able to get some looks and able to stick them in,” junior forward Kyle Savercool said.
The victory gives Salisbury a date with the tournament’s fourth seed – Christopher Newport, who the Sea Gulls defeated twice this season and ended the Sea Gulls run last season in the CAC’s in an overtime loss.
“Christopher Newport came in here last year and played very well. We need to trust each other and play forty minutes,” Merkel said. “It’s going to be a great college basketball game.”
Salisbury’s men’s basketball team will not be the only maroon and gold team competing for a conference championship on Saturday. The women’s team will also compete for a title after defeating York College, 76-61 in the semi-finals. It will be the first time in school history both teams compete the same year for the CAC Championship.
“It’s going to be a battle. We just have to come out and do our thing and expect everything,” Smith said.