DOVER, DE -- Christopher Newport did something Thursday night that no other team has been able to do all season. The fifth-seeded Captains handed top-seeded and 10th-ranked Wesley a 59-54 loss at Wentworth Gymnasium, where the Wolverines were undefeated in 10 home games this season.
CNU, now 19-8, will play at Mary Washington on Saturday for the Capital Athletic Conference championship.
"Our defense was fantastic tonight," head coach John Krikorian said. "We knew we would have to keep up our intensity for 40 minutes to beat a great team like Wesley, and we really responded. We defended and created turnovers tonight like we knew we were capable of, and the result is a really satisfying win."
The Captains got off to a fast start, scoring the first nine points of the game before the Wolverines responded with a 14-3 run of their own. The lead then was exchanged several times before the teams left the court at intermission with the game tied at 20-20. CNU's defense held Wesley to just 29 percent shooting in the opening half (7 of 24).
The second half saw the Wolverines jump out to a five-point lead with 18:07 to play, their biggest lead of the night. CNU bounced back and the lead changed hands five times before the Captains started pulling away.
Senior Tra Benefield hit a 3-pointer with 7:56 left to play to put the Captains ahead 41-38. Just 22 seconds later, sophomore Connor Laframboise drilled another triple to put CNU ahead 44-38. Benefield then added another bucket with 6:40 left to give the Captains a 46-38 edge, a lead they would not relinquish.
Junior guard Mike Cherry led the Captains in scoring with 17 points, 15 coming in the second half. Benefield finished with 14 points, with a dozen in the second stanza, and also registered 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season, and the third in his past four games. Laframboise also ended up in double digits with 13. Freshman Tim Daly posted nine points and 10 rebounds.
CNU went ahead by nine 49-40 and then in the final minute of the game pushed the lead to 10, the largest advantage of the night. In all, the game was tied seven times and featured eight lead changes.
For the night, Wesley was held to 35 percent shooting (17 of 49), and the Captains forced 20 Wolverines turnovers. Senior center David Langan was held to 13 points and eight rebounds. He had been averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds heading into play Thursday night. Anthony Bowers led Wesley with 14 points off the bench.
The triumph was the fourth this season over a ranked opponent for the Captains, and the third on the road. Wesley is now 22-3, and will have to wait until Monday to see if they will receive an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.
The Christopher Newport victory followed an overtime win Tuesday night at Salisbury. Now, the Captains will be faced with their third road contest in a five-day span for the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
CNU is now 19-1 this season when leading or tied at halftime, and 0-7 when trailing at the intermission.
The Captains will be playing in the CAC title game in the first season as a conference member.