By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: SU sophomore center J.P. Krotulis and freshman guard Gary Briddell double-team Wesley senior guard J.W. Lawson. Feb. 21. Emma Reider photo
The rim was not friendly to the Salisbury University men’s basketball team last week at Wesley College. The Sea Gulls had their worst shooting performance of the season both from the field (26.7 percent) and from behind the arc (11.6 percent).
For a team that relies heavily on three-pointers, Salisbury shot 5-for-43 against Wesley’s second-best CAC three-point defense. The Sea Gulls went on to fall 67-57 in the game at Wesley.
“I just didn’t want to have a repeat of last Wednesday,” SU senior forward Chad Barcikowski said. “I knew we had to come out with some intensity and I feel like we did for a little bit there.”
In the teams’ third and final meeting this season, the third-seeded Sea Gulls and sixth-seeded Wolverines met in the CAC Tournament First Round Tuesday night. While Salisbury shot better in those two previous shooting categories, the game ended up going down to the free-throw line.
The charity stripe has not been kind to Salisbury all season, entering Tuesday’s game sixth in the CAC in the category with 65.3 percent. On the other side of the hardwood, Wesley led the CAC with 73.2 percent.
The game went the opposite way of those two categories.
“It was a fight. I thought we responded pretty well in the second half,” SU Head Coach Andy Sachs said.
Salisbury had their best average at the line in seven games, going 15-for-21 for 71.4 percent. Despite numerous trips to the line, Wesley only hit 8-for-15 chances.
With a height advantage within the overall rosters, Salisbury took the battle inside the paint too, bringing down eight more rebounds than Wesley alongside 15 offensive rebounds.
Alongside the team effort were unwritten Sea Gulls stepping up in the team’s 75-68 victory. Sophomore forward Lucas Martin brought down seven rebounds along with 10 points, his second straight game hitting the double-digit scoring mark.
Freshman guard Johnny Fierstein had one of his top games for the Sea Gulls, accumulating 13 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists.
“To start the first half, we really weren’t shooting the ball very well,” Fierstein said. “So, I figured that they’re playing zone, playing out, they’re daring us to shoot it. So, if we could just find a way to drive through and get inside, get shots close around the hoop, then things would open up.”
With seven of his points coming in the first half, Fierstein opened up options for the Sea Gulls across the floor. Junior point guard Blair Davis ended the game with seven assists, while freshman guard Gary Briddell found success from behind the arc with 11 points.
For Fierstein, he has appeared in all games this season, but started the last 17 games. Within Salisbury’s 18-8 overall record, the Sea Gulls are 13-4 when Fierstein starts.
The results have not come so much within Fierstein’s stat lines, but instead with those around him on the floor. Since he entered the starting lineup, Salisbury is averaging 2.5 more assists per game.
“Johnny knows how to win. He’s been around winning. I’ve seen that since the first day. The basketball IQ is there. Right when [Coach Sachs] put him in the starting lineup, you could see an immediate change,” Barcikowski said, who led Salisbury with 21 points in the win.
While seniors like Barcikowski face the prospect of the end of their collegiate career with a loss in these postseason games. It also brings out the best of their abilities on the floor.
Wesley senior guard J.W. Lawson led the second half surge for the Wolverines, tying Evan Anderson for the team lead in scoring with 16 points alongside nine rebounds, three steals and three assists.
— Salisbury Athletics (@suseagulls) February 21, 2018
For Fierstein and the other Sea Gulls returning next season, they are reminded of the end of their recent high school careers when they look at Barcikowski or fellow SU senior guard Jordan Brooks. The postseason games are a mission to continue playing on the hardwood with members of their basketball family.
“We all love each other. We love this team. It’s fun playing with them. We just don’t want it to come to an end and want to make it last as long as possible,” Fierstein said.
The Salisbury win took team effort across the box score as they look to keep that season alive. After a day of rest and preparation, the Sea Gulls will travel to second-seeded York (Pa.) to face the Spartans (21-4, 14-4 CAC) Thursday night in a 7 p.m. start.
In Salisbury’s road upset of the Spartans on Feb. 10, freshman guards Mike Ward and Briddell led the team in scoring in the first half to eventually stave off the Spartans.
“At this point, it’s all about surviving. That’s what it is so now we have a one-day prep for York,” Sachs said. “And we’re going to bring the fight to them.”
The winner will advance to the CAC Championship to face either top-seeded Christopher Newport or fourth-seed Mary Washington. SU and York split their season series.