|Christopher Newport has had a lot of NCAA Tournament appearances before this year's breakthrough to Salem.
Photo by C. Perkins Photography for Oswego State athletics
|D3hoops.com named CNU sophomore Marcus Carter to the All-Middle Atlantic Region first team earlier this week.
Christopher Newport athletics photo
By Rob Knox
A special vibe has propelled the Christopher Newport men’s basketball team to its first Final Four in the program’s distinguished 49-year history.
It’s actually six simple ingredients that has fueled the Captains’ success during their magical 30-1 season. The foundation of the Captains’ journey to a school-record 30 wins has been rooted in six main principles that are at the heart of Christopher Newport basketball: humility, passion, service, gratitude, resilience and courage.
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“We have each other,” junior forward Tim Daly said. “It’s been great and being around each other has made basketball so much more enjoyable this season and easier to be accountable to each other. This season has been so awesome. We are enjoying the journey, but we are also staying hungry and keeping our eyes on the prize.”
The prize is the national championship trophy the Captains can carry back across the state with them if they can win two more games this weekend at the Division III Final Four in Salem, Va. Christopher Newport’s first obstacle will be St. Thomas (28-3) Friday night at the Salem Civic Center at 7:30 p.m.
The other national semifinal matches Amherst (26-5) against undefeated and top-ranked Benedictine (30-0). The two winners collide Saturday at 6 p.m. Saturday for the national title.
“This is huge,” CNU head coach John Krikorian said of the Captains’ first trip to the Final Four. “Christopher Newport has a long tradition of winning basketball. We knew it was a matter of time to get to this point if we continued to do things the right way and recruit the right athletes. (The late C.J. Woollum, former head coach) laid the groundwork. I am so appreciative of everybody who helped us get to this point of the season.”
While the Captains' beautiful bond has been helpful, the chemistry they display and talent they have on the floor has been the difference. Starting with sophomore guard Marcus Carter, who was named the Capital Athletic Conference Player of the Year and a first-team all-region member at guard, Christopher Newport is an exciting team that has won 21 consecutive games and averages 75.1 points per game.
The Captains have been propelled by stellar defense all season, and CNU is fifth in the nation allowing just 61.3 points per game. Christopher Newport has held its opponent to 60 or fewer points 13 times this season.
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Carter leads the Captains in scoring this season, averaging 15.9 points per game. He scored 22 points in each of CNU's wins this weekend as the Captains downed Keene State and Wooster in Oswego, N.Y., to reach the Final Four. Carter is also averaging 7.1 rebounds per contest and has posted eight double-doubles this season.
“Getting to the Final Four is a big accomplishment and a dream come true,” Carter said. “You always watch March Madness on TV and you dream of one day being able to be a part of the excitement. I am grateful to make it to the Final Four. At the beginning of the season, one of my goals was to make sure we gave our seniors the best season possible. It was easy because as a team we all had the same mindset and goal. This entire year has been a blessing the whole year as we have been on the same page and making good memories together.”
Sophomore Aaron McFarland (14.0 points per game) and Daly (13.2) have eased Carter’s scoring by averaging double figures. Daly also leads CNU in rebounding (7.8 per game). Junior Kevin Regimbal contributes 9.0 points per outing. In last Saturday’s win over Wooster, Daly recorded his sixth double-double of the season (20 points and 11 rebounds). McFarland added 11 points and Regimbal finished with 10 points. Junior Rayshard Brown leads the Captains with 86 assists.
While a majority of the Captains' top scorers are underclassmen, which obviously bodes well for the future, this run through the tournament means plenty to the Captain seniors Hunter Wetherell, Connor Laframboise and Ben Watkins, who were members of the last CNU team to participate in the NCAA Tournament, as freshmen. Their contributions have been bigger than the combined 9.1 points per game they average.
“They provided tremendous leadership and always put the team first,” Krikorian said. “They have given us huge lifts off the bench throughout the season. They are the guys you need to have in your locker room. They keep it real. When you have seniors like them; it sets the tone for the rest of the group and that will be their legacy. They will be remembered as great teammates.”
Veteran assistant coach Roland Ross is a human encyclopedia of Christopher Newport men’s basketball history and an important link that unites every player who has ever worn the blue-and-silver uniform. He’s been present for each of Christopher Newport’s 20 postseason trips. The numerous banners in the Freeman Center signifies the accomplishments, but Ross’ steady voice and discussions about the history has spoken volumes, especially this season with such a young roster.
“Coach Ross tells us how single banner that’s hanging in the gym was achieved with hard work,” Carter said. “Then he details for us the sacrifices each team made to get to these tournaments. We also learn a lot from the alums when they come back and speak with us. It’s a great feeling to know that you’re part of a team that will put a banner on the wall and adding to the great tradition of Christopher Newport.”
Nobody will care that the snapshot of the team’s first Final Four team in school history occurred in a foreign facility. While some may have been disappointed that Christopher Newport wasn’t chosen as a host site for sectionals. Had the favorites all won: Catholic, Richard Stockton and Marietta won, then Newport News most likely would’ve been the place to be last weekend.
Instead, the Captains were treated to a nice leisurely flight since Newport News is more than 500 miles from Oswego. That trip afforded the Captains more bonding time on the road.
“Going on the road was the best thing that happened to us,” Krikorian said. “To be able to get away from distractions and let them do all the work in hosting was good. Oswego did a great job of hosting. All we had to do was hang out, practice, eat a team meal together and play some basketball. Our team likes being around each other and the trip just added to our overall experience.”
The Captains have also enjoyed their share of thrillers this season, winning consecutive one-point games in the CAC tournament. Christopher Newport defeated St. Mary’s (Md.), 57-56, in the semifinals and edged Salisbury, 68-67, in overtime to claim its first CAC tournament championship title. Those experiences can’t hurt when they meet the Tommies, who are playing in their third Final Four in six years.
“These guys are the real deal,” Krikorian said of the Tommies. “They have been here before and can shoot the living daylights out of the ball. They have good size and good guard play. We’re going to have dig deep to defend these guys and attack them. It’s going to be challenge. My group loves playing basketball with each other. The character of our guys and the way we live our six values everyday has led to our success on top of their ability and talent.”