By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
What: No. 20 Salisbury men’s basketball hosts York College (Pa.)
Where: Maggs Physical Activities Center
When: Thursday, Feb. 23 at 7pm
How to Watch: Sea Gull Sports Network
With a third place Mid-Atlantic regional ranking, the Sea Gulls’ men’s basketball team was flying high towards the end of the regular season and into the 2017 Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) Playoffs. Now, one week later, Salisbury (19-6, 14-4 CAC) finds itself in a much different scenario. Losers in their last two contests, the Sea Gulls are now on the bubble to make the NCAA Tournament.
While it is up for debate whether they will make it further into the postseason, Salisbury does control one thing: the CAC Tournament. A 2017 Championship would mean an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament and no speculations on their hopes beyond the next few days.
The obstacle in their way is the familiar York College Spartans squad (17-9, 11-7 CAC) that split both regular season contests with the Gulls. It is a matchup of the CAC second-seeded Gulls and the third-seeded Spartans as February warms into March Madness on Thursday night.
2016-17 Meetings: An average of 4.5 points has separated the Gulls and the Spartans in their two games this season. In January, Salisbury took their second straight loss to York in a 78-74 affair in Pennsylvania. Earlier this month, Salisbury avenged their previous defeat with a 77-72 home victory that featured a brief Spartan comeback in the late stages of the game.
Salisbury: The Sea Gulls come off one of their least productive weeks this season. The team went 0-2 on the road with come-from-behind losses at both St. Mary’s (Md.) and Frostburg St. Most notably apparent was the defensive drop off in both contests in the second half. Salisbury gave up 27.5 scoring defense in the first half, but that same number raised to 49.5 in the second half.
SU Offense: The Salisbury offense has increased production from a season ago. The Sea Gulls have scored at or above their average of 73.6 points per game (PPG) in their last six games. In recent games, Salisbury has found struggles spreading out the scoring, relying on a few players to carry the load. SU is in need of a consistent fourth-string scorer to emerge, which they may just get back in a healthy Justin Witmer.
SU Defense: The key mission for Salisbury on the defensive end is to guard the corners and track well. York’s successes against the Gulls depend on outside shooting which Salisbury has failed to defend in the two previous match-ups this season. While Salisbury sports one of the top three-point defenses in the nation, allowing 28.3 percent per game, York was the complete opposite in their two match-ups, shooting 38.9 percent against the Gulls this season.
This game is also a second chance for the Gulls to redeem the defensive prowess that they are known for under head coach Andrew Sachs. Salisbury finished in the top-five of total scoring defense in the entire country a season ago. After going 0-2 last week in two come-from-behind wins, Salisbury dropped to sub-20 in the nation in the category.
SU Players to Watch: Salisbury’s senior trio.
Tense moments call for clutch players. This moment is a prime opportunity for Salisbury’s three seniors. Guard Justin Witmer alongside forwards Gordon Jeter and Wyatt Smith return to the spotlight of the CAC Tournament once again.
Smith is coming off one of his top performances of the season, tallying 28 points and nine rebounds against Frostburg St. Improvements have come in Jeter’s game over the last week, averaging three more points per game and just over three more rebounds per game.
The last time Witmer took the floor for the Gulls was when he drained career point number 1,000 against York in their last meeting. After recently dealing with a high-ankle sprain, Thursday will be the first game action for Witmer after healing. Despite not being 100 percent, the senior brings his most important “x-factor”—leadership.
York (Pa.): After their 102-91 CAC first round win over Wesley College, the Spartans take their second road trip in the last three weeks to Salisbury, Md. In their two games against the Sea Gulls this season, York was notorious for stretching out the Salisbury defense to the point that the Spartans could create open pockets. After suffering a key injury in their front court early in the season, York runs a four-guard spread that is ideal for shooters to find open looks.
York Offense: The Spartans continue to score from beyond the arc this season. The team averages 33.8 percent from deep for the course of the season, but this percentage increases to 38.9 against Salisbury. In each of this season’s two games, a Spartan has knocked down at least six three’s against the Gulls. In the first game, it was senior guard Brad Wesner (6/11 for 18 points). In the second, it was junior guard Matt Scamuffo.
York Defense: The Spartans have produced enough on the offensive end that they have not needed to worry about the defensive side. While York has electrified from beyond the arc against Salisbury, the Gulls have still found ways to put consistent offensive numbers.
A key for York will be to force Salisbury’s hand in the turnover department. The Spartans scored 20 points off 14 Salisbury turnovers in their first meeting this season. York averages 9.1 steals per game to force over 17 turnovers per game, leading the conference.
York Player to Watch: junior guard Matt Scamuffo.
These past two seasons, Scamuffo is the kryptonite for Salisbury. The elusive six-foot-one junior is a determined shooter that has racked up his fair share of points through his first three seasons, scoring over 1,000 points in his career. Averaging 16 points per game, Scamuffo is the key to the engine that drives York.
In their last meeting earlier in February, the native of Chalfont, Pa. found his touch beyond the arc, hitting nine of 17 three-pointers for a total of 35 points. It was just last season while Salisbury was upset on the road at York that Scamuffo drained six of ten three-pointers for 24 points.