No. 13 Captains Bounce Back With Win Over LaGrange, 86-76

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Behind a career-high tying performance from junior Tra Benefield, the 13th-ranked Christopher Newport Captains (12-2, 5-1) bounced back for an 86-76 win over LaGrange College in USA South action. The Panthers fall to 7-5 overall, 1-3 in USA South action, while CNU got back into the win column behind 34 points from their leading scorer. 

The offensive outburst from Benefield was his second 30-point performance of the season and fourth of his career. He matched his career-high of 34 from a year ago, almost to the day, when he did it on the road at N.C. Wesleyan on January 7, 2012. He was honored in a pre-game ceremony for becoming the 28th Captain in school history to eclipse the 1,000-point scoring mark. Tra moved up to 24th all-time with 1,083 career points, passing Hall of Famer Andy Waclawski (1,069); he is now just two points shy of Steve Brown for 23rd. 

The Captains needed every bit of Benefield's night as they struggled to stretch the lead to double figures throughout the game. The back-and-forth matchup saw the lead change 16 times and tied up seven more, as both teams continued to answer the other. In the first half, CNU took a lead of six points with 12:36 on the clock, 19-13, after a modest 6-0 run, but that would be the biggest gap for either team in the opening stanza. 

At the 2:06 mark, the Captains bench was issued a technical foul, which allowed LaGrange to take their largest lead of the half, a two-point edge at 35-33. The CNU offense was sparked, however, and closed on an 8-2 run to take a 41-37 lead at the break. Rookie Connor Laframboise punctuated the run with a long three-pointer with just seconds remaining on the clock. 

Benefield had knocked down 7 of his first 14 shots to finish with 16 points in the first half, adding three steals and six rebounds. The Captains shot 41.5% from the field (17-41), but were struggling from long range, knocking down just 4-of-16 attempts (25%).

LaGrange was hitting at a 44.4% clip, led by rookie guard Mark Wagner. The 5-10 freshman went 3-5 including a pair of three-pointers to lead the way with nine points.

Out of the break, CNU looked to take control in the first seven minutes of action, building the lead to 11 points on a pair of free-throws by Evan Thorpe. The Captains led 55-44, but the Panthers would answer. Wagner caught fire again, knocking down a long three and also posting an old-fashioned three point play to lead a fervent 19-8 run LaGrange run to erase the lead and tie things up at 63. 

The Captains defense held on as LaGrange failed to take the lead, and then, with 6:08 remaining it was senior Jon Snead who stepped up with a big shot. After a three-point play by junior guard Denzel Robinson tied the game back at 67, Snead checked in and found himself loose in the corner for a long trey. He buried it and CNU never gave up the lead again in the ball game. The three-pointer coined a 10-2 run for the Captains who would take a 77-69 lead with just over three minutes remaining.

Benefield would put the exclamation point on his terrific night with a pair of fast-break baskets, including a hard slam with 1:41 remaining. The Captains defense would get a big block from Nik Biberaj, who finished with a double-double, and held on for the ten-point victory, 86-76. 

The Captains shot 45.8% in the game on 33-of-72 attempts, led by the 13-for-22 performance by Benefield. His 34 points were paired with seven rebounds and four steals with three three-pointers. Biberaj added 13 points and 12 rebounds, chipping in three blocked shots and three assists in the win. CNU held the advantage in the paint, outscoring LaGrange 48-20, and holding a 44-37 edge in rebounding over the visiting squad.

Four different players were in double figures for LaGrange, led by Wagner with 15. Robinison had 13, while Patrick Dugger and Marcus Vaughn each added 12 for the Panthers. Dugger just missed a double-double adding nine rebounds. 

CNU was scheduled to play their next game on Sunday, but Piedmont College has cancelled their 2012-13 basketball season so the Captains will have the day off. Their next game is not until next Saturday, January 19 as they play host to Maryville College in USA South action at 4:00 pm.