NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Christopher Newport University saw a 24-point lead shrink all the way down to one Saturday night at the Freeman Center, but the Captains were able survive down the stretch and hold off Wheaton College (IL), 76-70. The victory, the 13th straight for CNU, propels the second-ranked Captains to their third Final Four in the last six NCAA Tournaments.
John Krikorian's squad will play Swarthmore College (PA) in the National Semifinals Thursday in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Both teams are 28-3 heading into the re-match of a national semifinal game in Fort Wayne in 2019.
"We came into this game on a mission, and we really executed out game plan for about 25 minutes," Krikorian said. "Credit to Wheaton, they're a top ten program and we knew they weren't going to roll over. We anticipated they would give us a run, and they made the big plays they needed to make to get back in the game. Our experience and certainly being at home helped us get over that stretch and we did enough in the final minutes to hold them off."
Fifth-year senior Matthew Brodie led the Captains with 19 points, with six coming in the final two minutes, including four-for-four at the foul line. Junior Trey Barber and sophomore Ty Henderson added 16 each, and junior Jahn Hines posted 15.
Christopher Newport got off to a remarkable start, making its first six shots of the night and building a lead that eventually reached 24 points, 36-12, with 4:46 to play in the opening half. The Thunder was able to begin a comeback late in the first half and whittled the advantage down to 15 at the intermission, 40-25.
Wheaton maintained its momentum and continued to storm back after the break thanks primarily to the play of graduate student Tyson Cruickshank, who scored 26 of his game-high 34 points in the second stanza.
The Thunder used a 16-2 run to cut the lead as close as one, 58-57, with just over four minutes remaining, but could not pull even or jump in front. The Captains were able to convert all six foul shots in the final two minutes (four by Brodie and two by Henderson) as CNU hung on for the six-point triumph.
"Honestly, I think the difference was our experience in that situation," Jahn Hines said following the net-cutting ceremony that followed the victory. "The games we lost at Virginia Wesleyan and Randolph-Macon this year and even Marietta last year, we took something from all of those games and got better because of them. Tonight, being at home certainly helped, and it's great to be going to the Final Four."
Hines, who has now played in 61 games as a Captain over the last two seasons, has scored 989 career points (16.2 per game). He needs just 11 points to become the 34th 1000-point scorer in CNU men's basketball history.
After shooting 61 percent from the field in the opening half (17-of-28), the Captains cooled off and made just 13-of-32 after the break (41 percent). Wheaton's 51 percent shooting in the second half followed an 11-of-35 (31 percent) effort in the first 20 minutes.
The victory, in front of 931 spectators, was the 13th in 14 games this season at the Freeman Center. The Captains are now 31-25 all-time in NCAA play, and 12-3 all-time in NCAA games at the Freeman Center.
When Christopher Newport plays Swarthmore on Thursday, it will be the third all-time meeting, with both previous battles coming in the NCAA Tournament. CNU won at Swarthmore, 77-67, in the 2017 tourney, but fell by a 70-63 score in the 2019 National Semifinal.
Further details on the games in Fort Wayne, including ticket information and game times, will be posted as soon as they become available. Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mount Union (OH) will play in the other National Semifinal on Thursday, and the winners will meet for the National Championship next Saturday, March 18th, in Fort Wayne.
Both Christopher Newport basketball teams advanced to their respective Final Fours on Saturday as the CNU women's team defeated Tufts in Boston to improve to 30-0. The CNU women will travel to Connecticut to play Rhode Island College next Saturday, March 18th, in the National Semifinals. This marks the first time both basketball squads from the same school have advanced to the Final Four in the same season since 2016 when Amherst accomplished the feat.