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Captains defeat Panthers in title-game showdown

Monday, February 18, 2013

By STEVEN MARSH - Sports Editor

FERRUM -- Christopher Newport University was the only team left on Ferrum College's USA South Athletic Conference slate with the potential to sweep the Panthers.

The Captains did so in convincing fashion, 76-52, Sunday on Ferrum's Senior Day at William P. Swartz Gymnasium.

Ferrum suffered its first conference loss of the season at home after six previous league wins. The Panthers were 4-3 on the road in USA South play.

It marks the second time this season that the Captains held the Panthers to fewer than 60 points. CNU bested Ferrum 76-58 in Newport News in early January.

"Tonight, we were on our heels a little bit defensively for most the game; we were always a half-a-step behind,' Panthers bench boss Bill Tharp said. "Offensively, we never could get something going.

"I thought our guys played hard. We just didn't have any accomplishment to go with our effort,' Tharp said.

"I think everybody is a little disappointed after this one, but I think we'll bounce back in the conference tournament. I think we can make a run,' Panthers senior Lamont King said.

The Captains (11-3 in the USA South, 18-5 overall), who led by 20, 39-19, at intermission, won their fourth straight game in the series, one that encompasses 57 games.

Overall, the Captains' series edge is 43-14.

"Match-ups in college basketball are so important,' CNU head coach John Krikorian said. "I can't nail it down, but this year, in these two games, the match-up has been favorable for us.'

CNU, which dropped three straight games, two of which were in conference play earlier this month, finishes regular-season play with a three-game winning streak.

"We've played three really good games where we've executed on both ends of the floor,' Krikorian said.

Sunday's game could be the last regular-season game between the two long-time rivals. At the conclusion of the current academic year, CNU is leaving the USA South in all sports except football for the Capital Athletic Conference.

CNU will be the top seed in this week's conference tournament in Fayetteville, N.C. Ferrum, which was picked to finish eighth in the nine-team league in preseason, will be the No. 2 seed.

The Panthers open conference tournament play Thursday at 6 p.m. against No. 7 seed Maryville (Tenn.) College, one four league teams the Panthers swept during regular-season play. The Captains face No. 8 seed Averett University in the 2 p.m. tournament opener.

Ferrum (10-4 in the USA South, 13-10 overall) was attempting to win its first USA South regular-season championship since 2008 when the Panthers captured it by defeating North Carolina Wesleyan College on its home floor on Senior Day.

The seniors on this year's Ferrum squad were part of a 23-win team two years ago that finished second in the chase for the regular-season title and fell in overtime in the championship game of the conference's postseason tournament. Ferrum, which was ranked nationally during that campaign, failed to earn an at-large NCAA Division III tournament berth.

CNU made 59.3 percent of its shots in the opening half and limited Ferrum to 28 percent (7 of 25) shooting.

"We didn't knock down a lot of open shots and we took some rushed shots,' Ferrum senior Marshall Hamilton said. "We let them get a lot of fast-break points.'

"We were fortunate that (Ferrum) had some looks (at the basket) that they normally knocked down that they missed,' Krikorian said.

The Captains led 19-10 at the 7:15 mark of the first half and they doubled the count, 24-12, after hitting their first 3-point field goal of the stanza. The spread would reach 19 points, 31-12, after Connor Laframboise drilled a 3-pointer with 3:50 showing.

Ferrum freshman J.D. Wallace, who missed his only shot in the first half, swished two 3-pointers in the first three minutes of the second half, but CNU's Nik Biberaj, who netted 10 first-half points, converted a three-point play to mathematically square one of Wallace's treys.

The spread reached 20 points, 57-37, at the 12:50 mark before post player Lamont King, Ferrum's leading scorer, tallied his first points of the game on two free throws. King was 0 of 7 from the field in 14 minutes of action in the opening stanza.

"We really try to protect that paint and let the low post guys get easy touches,' Krikorian said. "I thought our guys did a good job not letting (King) catch (the ball) in areas were he is confortable around the basket. We tried to get him out a little further. I thought that was effective.'

King missed his only shot from the field in the second half.

Later, two drives by Tra Benefield pushed the difference to 23 points, 62-39, and with eight minutes left, CNU led by 24, 66-44, and with 6:22 showing, it was a 26-point game, 71-45.

Ferrum had a chance to take the deficit in the teens with 4:05 left, but Shon Goode missed his second attempt of a two-shot opportunity from the free-throw line.

For the game, Ferrum was 18 of 53 (34 percent) from the field, while CNU's clip dipped to 53.8 percent (28 of 52).

CNU outscored the Panthers 37-33 after halftime.

The Captains placed all five of their starters in double figures: Biberaj and Eva Thorpe each finished with 15 points, while Mike Cherry netted 14, Paul Meredith tallied 11 and Benefield finished with 10.

Pullen and Wallace each scored 14 points to lead Ferrum.

CNU owned a 36-28 rebounding advantage.

"I told my players before the beginning of conference season that we had to win our home games and steal a couple on the road and that would put us in a good position. ...Senior Day at home playing for a championship, there's not a better script out there except you are supposed to win it,' Tharp said.

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