By Brad Kelly
The Salisbury University men’s basketball team defeated the Southern Virginia Knights (4-19, 2-14 CAC) Saturday afternoon by a score of 77-67 in a highly-contested game on Senior Day. The win brings the Sea Gulls to a 19-4 (14-2 CAC) record and added to their undefeated home stint at the Maggs Center this season with a record of 11-0.
The Knights came out of the gates energized and pushing the tempo early against the Gulls, giving them a 17-16 lead nearly 10 minutes into the first half. But the Gulls weathered the initial storm and turned things around not allowing the Knights to lead again the rest of the game.
While the day was aimed to celebrate the seniors, the Gulls were boosted in the first half by the efforts from junior guard Jordan Brooks and freshman center Nick Gittings. Brooks and Gittings came off the bench, but the two pitched in nine and eight points respectfully, a much-needed boost.
The Knights got the ball inside early and often in the early part of the game, but the Gulls adjusted well. They stepped up their ball pressure and initial ball denial, forcing 11 turnovers in just the first half. This spring boarded them into easy transition baskets and open looks, allowing the team to open up a 21-point lead at half.
Things would get interesting in the second half. The Gulls jumped out to a 26-point lead with 18:01 left after back to back threes by junior forward Chad Barcikowski. But, the Knights would not go quietly into the night.
Coming out of a timeout, Southern Virginia would go on a nine to nothing run, getting them right back into the game. Knights’ freshman guard Rashay Douglas led the comeback, dropping 18 points in the second half.
But, the Gulls stood tall and when things mattered the most, senior leadership took over. Senior forward Wyatt Smith had 13 points and five rebounds in the second half, and proved to be the engine of the team. His energy and tenacity inside allowed the Gulls to control the game. Even though the Knights fought all the way back to make it an eight-point game with 31 seconds left, Smith iced the game with two free throws, cementing the Gulls win.
On paper this game looked to be a potential blow out with how well the Gulls are playing and their dominance at home. But, the Knights showed why the game is not played on paper after all.
The Gulls may have grown complacent with the big lead in the second half, but they showed the grit and fortitude to tough this win out. A great sign considering the potential the Gulls have to make a championship run this season.
Rashay Douglas led all scorers with 25 points. Wyatt Smith finished with a 17 point and nine rebound game, Jordan Brooks followed with 16 points and three steals, and Chad Barcikowski filled the stat sheet with 11 points, five rebounds, four steals, and three assists for the Gulls.
Salisbury celebrated their three senior players before the game in honor of the annual Senior Day tradition. Guard Justin Witmer has a career average of 10 points per game and posted a 40% from beyond the arc his four years at SU. Forward Gordon Jeter averaged 9.7 points and amassed over 660 rebounds over his four years. Forward Wyatt Smith averaged 15 points and nearly 400 rebounds in his two years at Salisbury.
The Gulls continue their march for the top of the Capital Athletic Conference as they trail Christopher Newport by only one game for the conference lead. They will wrap up the regular season with two road games next week against St. Mary’s (Md.) 12-11 (7-9) on Feb. 15 and Frostburg St. 6-17 (5-11) on Feb. 18.
With the victory, Salisbury clinched a first round bye into the CAC Semifinals to be played in Maggs Physical Activities on Feb. 23. The CAC tournament tips off on Feb. 21 for all teams.