FREDERICK, Md. - Christopher Newport battled back from a 13-point halftime deficit Saturday, beating Catholic University, 80-78, in the opening round of the Rotary of Frederick's Holiday Classic.
The victory propels the 14th-ranked Captains to the title game Sunday afternoon against Wilmington (OH) at 3:00 p.m. at BB&T Arena on the Hood College campus. Wilmington (2-0) defeated the host school, Hood, 89-77, in the other first round game.
Senior Aaron McFarland led the CNU effort, matching his career high with 27 points on nine of 14 shooting for the day. McFarland, making his season debut, knocked down five three-point field goals and also pulled down five rebounds in 24 minutes of playing time. He posted 16 of his 27 points, and made five of eight shots, after halftime as the Captains stormed back.
"Aaron was tremendous for us today," Head Coach John Krikorian said. "That's a great starting point for his senior season, and he obviously was a big factor in this game. I thought we played hard in the first half, but we didn't compete. In the second half, we defended better, and we shot a lot better too."
CNU out-scored Catholic, 51-36, after the intermission as the Captains made 17 of 29 second half shot attempts. McFarland was aided by senior Spencer Marin and sophomores Cutch Ellis and Nick Parks in the second-half scoring surge. Marin, who opened the year with 15 points in Wednesday's win at Randolph-Macon, recorded 14 points Saturday with eight coming in the second half despite foul trouble. Parks posted 12 points, seven in the second half, and Ellis tallied all of his eight points after the break.
Catholic, playing for the first time this season, built a 42-29 advantage at the intermission thanks to 14 points from senior Jay Howard and 12 from junior Andre Mitchell. Howard would go on to add 14 more in the second half for a game-high 28, while the Captains held Mitchell to just two points in the second stanza.
Christopher Newport was able to overtake the Cardinals, 54-53, on a McFarland triple with 12:58 to play in the second half, leading to a back-and-forth battle to the finish. There would be 11 lead changes and four ties over the final 13 minutes of the game.
Catholic stretched its lead to four, 78-74, on two Riley Hayes free throws with three minutes to play, but the Cardinals would not score again...committing four turnovers and missing three shots down the stretch. The Captains scored the game's final six points on a McFarland layup with 2:18 to play, a free throw from Ellis with 1:46 left and two more at the stripe from Ellis with 45 seconds on the clock, and finally a McFarland free throw with just six seconds left. A driving layup attempt by Catholic's Brandon Easton was blocked by sophomore Luther Gibbs as time expired, assuring CNU's second win in as many games to start the season.
The Captains out-rebounded the Cardinals, 36-35, and ended up shooting 48.3 percent for the game (28 of 58) to Catholic's 48.4 percent (31 of 64). CNU was ten of 23 from beyond the three-point line (43.5 percent) while the Cardinals made three of ten long-range attempts (30 percent). The Captains wound up 14 of 24 at the line (58.3 percent) while Catholic converted 13 of 17 (76.5 percent) at the line.
Christopher Newport and Wilmington, both 2-0 to start the new season, will be meeting for the first time ever in the title game Sunday. The triumph over Catholic Saturday came in the first meeting of the schools since Catholic's 65-64 win in the opening round of the 2000 NCAA Tournament.