CHESTER, Pa. – The 2014-15 Capital Athletic Conference tournament came down to free throws with less than a second remaining which gave the Salisbury University men's basketball team the victory. The 2015-16 regular season got started the same way on Friday night with a pair of free throws sealing a 62-61 victory over Rowan University; the first win of the year and the first win for new Head Coach Andrew Sachs.
The victory came in the opening game of the Widener Tipoff Tournament, sending the Sea Gulls through to the tournament championship game on Saturday, November 14.
Seniors Rocky Harris and Adrien Straughn combined for the final 20 points for the Sea Gulls (1-0), but it was Straughn who came through with the clutch free throws after being fouled with 0.3 seconds showing on the clock.
Salisbury trailed 61-60 when Straughn drove down the right side and got the call. He went to the line and hit the first shot to tie the game, and after a Rowan timeout, drained the second to take the lead and the Profs (0-1) would not get a shot attempt off as the Gulls secured the victory.
The game did not start in the Sea Gulls' favor. Following a free throw from junior Gordon Jeter, 14 seconds into the contest, the Profs rattled off nine-straight points and opened the game on a 19-6 run to grab the early lead.
Rowan's advantage grew to 16 with just over seven minutes to play in the first half before Salisbury made a run. Freshman Jack Ferguson made a pair of three-point shots and Straughn connected on one, with 56 seconds left before halftime, to close out a 16-0 run to tie the game heading to the break. Ferguson scored nine points in the game on 3-of-4 shooting from outside.
During the stretch, the Sea Gull defense stood strong, forcing four turnovers and holding the Profs to 0-for-8 shooting from the floor.
Rowan scored the first five points of the second half, but Salisbury would keep the game close until a 9-1 Salisbury spurt allowed the Sea Gulls to take their first lead since the opening Jeter free throw. It was a Harris layup, as part of the team's closing stretch, that put the Gulls up 50-48.
Harris scored 12 points over the final seven minutes, as the lead changed hands five times in the closing moments. He finished with a team-high 16 points, while pulling down a game-high nine rebounds and dishing out three assists.
With the Sea Gulls up by eight with less than three minutes to play, Rob Depersia scored nine-consecutive points for the Profs, and a pair of Kris O'Connor free throws gave Rowan a 59-58 lead with 1:26 remaining. O'Connor led all scorers with 18 points as four Profs finished in double figures.
Straughn, who was 5-of-10 from the floor on the night, hit a layup with 15 seconds left to retake the lead, but Dan Brogan charged down the floor for the Profs to match the effort, pushing Rowan ahead 61-60 with six seconds left. Straughn would not go quietly, burying the two free throws, capping his 15-point night and the win.
Jeter scored five points and pulled in eight rebounds for Salisbury, while sophomore Chad Barcikowski was good for eight points off the bench.
The Sea Gulls will take on the winner of Friday's other game, either Widener College or Washington (Md.) College, in the tournament title game on Saturday, beginning at 4 p.m.