By: Brad Kelly
The No. 20 Salisbury men’s basketball team (20-6) won a thrilling double-overtime contest against the York (Pa.) Spartans (17-10) to advance to the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) Championship. With March Madness lurking in the shadows, games at this point of the season are all the more important; this makes the Gulls’ win vital in helping their bid to make the Division III tournament.
The first half of action turned into a three-point shooting contest as the two teams combined to fire 30 shots from beyond the arc. Neither team found success from deep in the half. York went 3-14 and the Gulls shot 5-16 in the category, but the no-conscience shooting made for up-tempo action.
The Spartans jumped out to a 4-2 lead at the 19-minute mark of the first half, but Salisbury quickly took the lead on junior forward Chad Barcikowski’s three just two minutes later. The Gulls would not look back for the rest of the half as they controlled the inside game and out-muscled the Spartans on the glass, outrebounding them by eight boards.
The Gulls took a 31-28 lead into halftime led by senior guard Justin Witmer, sophomore forward Jack Ferguson and junior forward Barry Bratten having six points apiece. Junior guard Matt Scamuffo led York with eight points while freshman guard Jared Wagner chipped in with five.
While the teams played the first half mostly from the perimeter, the second half turned into an inside battle. The Spartans only attempted eight three’s in the half, moving their effort into attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line. York established their newfound approach early in the half, using a seven-point scoreless run to take the lead 35-31.
The Gulls came out sloppy in the early going of the second half, missing open looks and struggling with the Spartans’ half-court press. With momentum fully turning York’s way, Salisbury needed someone to step up and make a play. That play came from senior forward Wyatt Smith, who brought the loud Maggs Physical Activities Center crowd to its feet with a transition dunk and foul to cut the deficit to only one.
Both teams traded baskets and free throw opportunities the rest of the half, as neither team could open more than a three-point lead. The Gulls left eight points at the charity in the second half going 13 of 22 from the line, while the Spartans were nearly immaculate making 11 of 12.
The flow of the Spartan offense in the second half went through junior forward Blayde Reich who led the team with 14 points in the half. The Gulls had a two-point advantage with 25 seconds left, but like the theme of the half, Reich took the ball hard inside drawing the foul and tying the game at 67. With five seconds left in the game, Smith got a shot off before the buzzer, but the ball rimmed out, sending the game into the first overtime.
After Smith put the Gulls up early in overtime with a layup, the Spartans controlled most of the period. York once again got the ball inside and went to the free-throw line, jumping out to a lead with 22 seconds left. But, once again the Gulls looked to an upperclassman when it mattered most, as Barcikowski made a brilliant one-on-one defensive play forcing a turnover. This led to Salisbury free throws, where Ferguson continued his strong play off the bench, hitting both free throws to tie the game. The Gulls once again got a shot off right before the buzzer, but Barcikowski’s three-point look would not fall.
In the first overtime, it was Salisbury that jumped out to an early lead only to trail for most of the period, but in the second period it was the Spartans who took the lead from the start. The two teams once again traded baskets as Spartans’ sophomore guard Jason Bady continually drove the ball inside with success. However, the Gulls’ senior forward Gordon Jeter followed suit, taking the reins of the Gulls’ offense.
After two Barcikowski free throws at the two-minute mark, the Gulls took the lead and did not look back. Led by Jeter’s nine-point performance in the period, the Gulls would secure the win 86-80.
Jeter led the team with 17 points and 11 rebounds, followed by 16 points from both Smith and Witmer and 13 points off the bench from Ferguson. Reich led York with his 21 points and 10 rebounds. Other Spartans made their marks with 19 points off the bench from Bady, 17 points from Wagner, and 16 points from junior guard Matt Scamuffo.
The Gulls will face a familiar foe in the CAC championship game, matching up against the Christopher Newport Captains (24-2) for the third straight year. Salisbury split the regular season’s series against the Captains this season, with each home team prevailing. The championship will be played on Feb. 25 at Christopher Newport.