NEWPORT NEWS- For the first time in over a decade, the Christopher Newport men's basketball team earned a postseason win, defeating Rutgers-Newark, 84-72, in the opening round on Saturday, ending a streak of five straight NCAA Tournament losses. The Captains last win also came at home, when they defeated St. John's (Minn.), 71-65, in the 2001 Sweet 16. Nik Biberaj led the Captains with a double-double, scoring 22 points and adding 11 rebounds.
The NCAA Tournament win was the first under third-year head coach John Krikorian, in the team's second trip. CNU will play the winner of the Virginia Wesleyan/Delaware Valley first-round matchup being played at 7pm Saturday night.
The Captains raced out to a big double-digit lead, led by Biberaj and rookie Evan Thorpe. CNU went up, 16-6, as Biberaj scored six points early. Thorpe surged out the gates, getting to the line and scoring seven points in the early run.
After trading baskets on the next two possessions, the Scarlet Raiders put together a 12-2 run to erase the big lead, tying things up at 20. Hussein Abdelmaksoud scored three points and added an assist to help lead the spurt. Rookie Connor Laframboise would hit a long three-pointer to end the run, though, and give CNU the lead back, 23-20.
Coined by Laframboise's jumper, the Captains would add a 12-2 run of their own to re-take a double-digit lead, 32-22. Thorpe was again key in the surge, going 2-for-2 from the line and knocking down a contested layup. CNU would take a 13-point lead into the break, 37-24, as Laframboise knocked down another trey and Tra Benefield finished out the half with a layup.
The Captains were led by Thorpe's 13 points in the opening stanza, while Biberaj added 10 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots. CNU was hitting at a 44.8% clip while taking control defensively and holding Rutgers-Newark to just 28.7% from the floor.
In the second half, the lead was never in doubt, as an 11-4 run out of the locker room built the lead to 20 for CNU, 48-28. With 12:48 remaining, Benefield hit a three and gave CNU it's largest lead of the game, a 21-point edge, at 55-34. The lead was still 20 with 4:15 remaining when the Scarlet Raiders saw Christian Garcia and Doze Ikwuegbu catch fire. The two would combine for 19 of the last 21 points scored by Rutgers-Newark, but it was too little, too late, as the Captains held on for a 12-point win.
Biberaj's double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds was his 12th of the season. He finished with a team-high in both categories with an impressive shooting performance, going 9-for-11 from the floor. Five Captains finished in double figures, as Benefield (16), Thorpe (14), Mike Cherry (13) and Laframboise (12) rounded out the top performances.