Fans that came out to Maggs Physical Activites Center Saturday night heard something very unusual ahead of the Salisbury University men’s basketball game against Arcadia University: two national anthems.
It was not “The Star-Spangled Banner” twice, but instead “O Canada.” The moment was devoted to senior forward Jack Ferguson, who is currently receiving treatment in his native country for a recent cancer diagnosis.
Not with the team this season, Ferguson is still recognized by Salisbury as a captain of the team, alongside seniors Chase Kumor and Blair Davis.
Flooded with off-court storylines since the beginning of October, the moment may have been just what the fans and the program needed to begin opening night, a moment to unite those there in attendance and those who have impacted the program over the last few seasons.
Other than two exhibition games previously, Saturday night was the first opportunity for the Sea Gulls to perform on the actual court, hosting Arcadia University in their season-opener.
The start of the game was highly energetic, with both teams trading baskets to begin the game. The largest margin between the two teams in the first half was just five points.
During that time period, there were eight lead changes and seven ties. Arcadia (0-1) went on a 7-2 run to close out the half, tying the score at 35-35 alongside a last-second bucket just before the buzzer.
The Knights were more efficient on offense than the Sea Gulls in the first half, shooting 50 percent from the field to Salisbury’s 45.2 percent. Salisbury struggled throughout the game with foul trouble, but both teams did have to brave turnovers, combining for 22 at the break.
At halftime, Davis led the Sea Gulls (1-0) with eight points, along with two assists and two rebounds. The Knights were headlined by senior forward Phil Pierfy, who tallied 12 points, along with a block and a steal, in the first half.
Salisbury came into the second half with new life, partially due to increased playing time for senior guard Marquis Roberson. Roberson is a new face for Salisbury, as he transferred from Allegany College of Maryland last season.
He provided 10 points, six rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot in the game. The combination of Davis and Roberson on the floor together elevated the team to a higher level of play.
“He’s a perfect complement to me,” Davis said. “When I’m tired, he takes the other guy’s main guy out of the game. I’m blessed to have him, honestly.”
Roberson, who led the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference in steals per game last season, agreed that the two guards make for a good combination in the maroon and gold.
“It’s great,” Roberson said. “Blair’s probably the best point guard in the CAC, so me playing with him, it’s easy for me to take off the extra load, and we complement each other very well.”
The Knights started the second half strong, going on a 14-3 run to take an eight-point lead. However, Salisbury tallied a run of its own, 14-6, to even the score at 55-55.
The game-defining sequence would come with 8:32 remaining in the second half. Following a steal from Roberson, sophomore guard Johnny Fierstein found Davis open in the right corner for a three-point shot. That shot provided the largest lead of the night for the Sea Gulls, 65-59.
The lead was cut to one twice, but Arcadia could not overcome the Sea Gulls. There were five Salisbury players who finished with double-digit points, with Davis leading the team with 14 points alongside six assists and two rebounds.
“They definitely look for me to lead, to take control of the game,” Davis said. “We got it done tonight. We took care of the ball, hit our free throws down the stretch, and that’s all you can ask.”
For new interim head coach Brian McDermott, it was his first career collegiate victory, 85-79 over the Knights.
“I’m really blessed,” McDermott said. “I got really intelligent players. All of our adjustments are made through communication and talking with them about what works best in the next situation.”
The Sea Gulls return to action as host of the Salisbury Optimist International Tournament, with their first matchup coming on Friday against Lancaster Bible College at 7:30 p.m.
By NICK LEWIS and CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Staff writer and Sports editor
Featured photo: Senior forward Chase Kumor guards a Christopher Newport University player last season (Megan Findle image).