NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – The No. 12 Salisbury University men's basketball team hit the road for a matchup of two of the top teams in the nation, coming up just short at No. 3 Christopher Newport University, 55-53, on Wednesday night.
The teams are two of the best defensive squads in the nation, both ranked in the top 10 in points allowed and the teams held true, with Christopher Newport (16-2, 10-1 CAC) scoring its second-lowest point total of the season, and Salisbury (14-4, 9-2 CAC) being held to its lowest point total of the year.
Wyatt Smith went to work early, scoring down low and from outside. The senior hit two tries from beyond the three-point arc in the opening six minutes, scoring 10 of the Sea Gulls' first 14 points in the contest, as Salisbury began the game on a 14-9 run.
Smith scored a game-high 17 points in the contest to go with nine rebounds and three blocks.
Gordon Jeter's pull-up three-pointer from the right wing, pushed the Salisbury lead to eight points, 17-9, just before the midway point of the first half and the lead grew to double figures for the first time on a three from Chad Barcikowski from the right wing off a kick out from Jeter on the low blocks, making it 20-10.
Christopher Newport got the lead down to four points twice in the final minutes of the opening half, but Salisbury answered with a left wing jumper from Jordan Brooks in the closing seconds to allow the Sea Gulls to take a 27-21 lead into halftime.
Salisbury caused 10 Christopher Newport turnovers in the first half, turning those miscues into nine points.
After an early CNU three-point play in the second half, Barcikowski hit again from the right wing for three, keeping the lead at six points, but the Captains cut the deficit to four, where it remained until Justin Witmer drained a three from the right side with 13:30 showing on the clock for a 33-26 Salisbury edge.
After an offensive rebound, Kevin Regimbal hit three from the left corner to cut the lead to 39-36 with seven minutes on the clock. It was the first time the Salisbury lead dropped below four points since the opening moments of the second half.
The teams traded buckets over the next few minutes before a three-point play from Tim Daly made the score 45-43 with 3:40 left in the game.
Salisbury faced a dwindling shot clock on the next possession and Smith's fade away went in and out giving the ball back to the Captains. Rayshard Brown hit two free throws to tie the game, 45-45, with 2:48 left setting up a thrilling finish as the lead changed hands four times and was the game was tied four times in the closing minutes of the game.
Smith's hook shot on the right block got nothing but net for a 47-45 lead with 2:30 left but the Captains came back with a three from Marcus Carter off Daly's kick out for a 48-47 edge, the first CNU lead of the second half.
Brooks hit two free throws to give the Gulls the lead and Smith was good on two free throws a moment later, tying the game at 53-53 with 14 seconds left, but it was the last tie of the night.
The Captains got a chance at the charity stripe and Carter knocked down both with less than three seconds left for the 55-53 lead.
Salisbury pushed the ball ahead, but could not get a shot off before the horn signaled the end of the contest.
With the win, CNU takes over the top spot in the CAC standings, but Salisbury sits just one game back with six games remaining.
Barcikowski finished with 13 points along with four steals and four rebounds, while Jeter pulled down nine boards and Witmer dished out three assists to go with eight points.
Salisbury returns to action hosting the University of Mary Washington on Saturday, January 28 at 4 p.m., at Maggs Physical Activities Center.