History was made in Maggs Physical Activities Center on Dec. 17. The No. 10 Salisbury University men’s basketball team, then 7-0, played host to No. 5 Christopher Newport University. The stage was set and the importance of this early-season Capital Athletic Conference matchup was clear.
Down by two with under three seconds remaining, hope seemed to be lost for the Sea Gulls. That is, until standout forward Chad Barcikowski grabbed a rebound and hurled a midcourt shot that would connect. Salisbury had won the game, 59-58.
With this win, Salisbury set a program record for most consecutive wins to start a season. It would finish second in the CAC, boasting a 20-8 record and earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The 2018-19 Sea Gulls (9-0) rewrote this history on Sunday evening. They hosted their former CAC foe, Wesley College, following a close overtime win over Marymount University (Va.). Two halves would not be enough in this matchup, either. Salisbury edged out its second overtime victory of the season, 91-89.
“I know there were a lot of unanswered questions about the program heading in, a lot of uncertainty,” sophomore guard Johnny Fierstein said. “Getting off to this nice start means a lot, and I think to the outside world, it means a lot to show that just because we went through some changes doesn’t mean we’ve changed.”
The first half featured gritty, back-and-forth play between the two squads. The Wolverines (4-5) eventually pulled ahead, taking the lead on a Brian Cameron three-pointer. This lead would hold for much of the first half.
Salisbury took the lead just before the half on back-to-back three-pointers from Fierstein and senior point guard Blair Davis, 41-38. The Wolverines got a quick bucket back with a handful of seconds remaining, tightening the halftime score to 41-40.
Both teams thrived from beyond the arc, with a slight advantage to the Sea Gulls. They buried 53.8 percent (7-of-13) of their three-point attempts. Sophomore guard Gary Briddell led the team with 11 points, while Cameron headlined Wesley’s offensive attack with 18 first-half points.
The Wolverines came out of the break on fire, putting together an 11-0 run to take a 51-44 lead early in the second half. However, sophomore guard Mike Ward led a Salisbury push to make the game close again. He tallied seven of the team’s nine points over a two-minute stretch.
Similar to the first half, Wesley held the lead until the final minutes of the period. Fierstein helped the Sea Gulls to take the lead twice in the final three minutes and made the final two free throws of regulation to send the game to overtime. Fierstein recorded a total of 18 points and seven rebounds, along with five assists, in the game.
The extra period brought more high-energy, back-and-forth play from both sides. With 12 seconds remaining, Davis kicked to a wide-open Briddell in the corner. The three-pointer fell, giving the Sea Gulls a 91-89 lead.
The Wolverines had a final chance with an Evan Anderson three-pointer, but it was blocked by Briddell at the buzzer to put the game on ice.
The Gulls had five players score in double digits on Sunday evening. They have had four games in which five players scored 10 or more points this season.
Briddell shared the team lead in scoring with Fierstein, also notching 18 points and seven rebounds. Mike Ward was just behind with 17 points, while Lucas Martin scored 10 points with five rebounds. Davis contributed with 10 points with three assists.
“These guys really worked over the summer. I saw Johnny as a freshman,” Davis said. “He’s really grown, and he knows how to put the ball in the basket. We definitely look to him, down the stretch, especially. I think he’s one of our best free throw shooters.”
Salisbury will begin a long stretch away from home on Saturday, Dec. 22 when it travels to Rowan University. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. The team will return home on Jan. 5, hosting Penn State Harrisburg when it returns to conference play.
“They’re just refusing to lose,” SU interim head coach Brian McDermott said. “They’re finding ways, and they’re doing it against good teams that are playing really hard, coming in and giving their best shot.”
By NICK LEWIS
Featured photo: SU sophomore guard Gary Briddell takes a three-pointer in the corner vs. Goucher College. Nov. 28 (Brendan Link image).