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Captains win national title at the buzzer


Trey Barber kisses it off glass at the buzzer for Christopher Newport, as teammate Collin Hines looks on in anticipation and Mount Union’s Chris Painter looks on in horror.
Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com

By Riley Zayas
Special to D3hoops.com

FORT WAYNE, Indiana — For the first time in program history, Christopher Newport has a national championship. 

And the Captains pulled off Saturday’s 74-72 victory over Mount Union in the most dramatic of ways, winning at the buzzer on Trey Barber’s layup. 

With 13.4 seconds remaining, Mount Union took the ball up court, trailing 72-70 after Ty Henderson’s free throw fell through for CNU. The Purple Raiders went straight to the rim, as the ball found its way into the hands of Christian Parker, whose 31 points anchored Mount Union in its inaugural title game appearance. Parker scored from short-range, knotting the score at 72. 

4.3 seconds remained. 

It turned out to be just enough time for Trey Barber to etch his name into the history books. Barber’s layup in transition fell through as the final buzzer sounded, providing a climactic conclusion to one of the most thrilling national title games in recent history. 

“I was hoping it went in,” Barber said postgame, “I’m at a loss for words.” 

“These guys, this is the most unique team I’ve ever coached in 25 years,” CNU coach John Krikorian said. “They find a way. There’s no quit in them. They actually thrive on being down.” 

Barber tallied 25 points in the victory, along with 10 rebounds, and scored the game’s first and last points. His teammates followed suit. The Captains trailed by as many as 10 points in the second half, but fought back, reclaiming the advantage with 8:38 left. They remained in front until Parker’s layup with 17 seconds left briefly put Mount Union up 70-69. 

Nine points were scored in those final 17 seconds as neither side backed down with spotlight on them on the season’s biggest stage. 

“There was no fear at the end,” Krikorian said. “That was our team, complete confidence. Matt [Brodie] gets the ball out of bounds, gets it up to floor to [Trey]. Nobody panicked.” 

“We’re never going to quit,” Mount Union head coach Mike Fuline noted. “We’re going to continue to fight. I think that showed until the last seconds. When you have a group like that, from a coaching perspective, it makes it enjoyable and fulfilling.” 

CNU shot just 22.9 percent in the game’s opening half, but converted on 48.6 percent of its attempts in the final 20 minutes, taking advantage of its size and length. The Captains scored 26 points in the paint in the second half. 

Christian Parker’s layin past Jahn Hines with 4.3 seconds left tied the game and nearly sent the national championship into overtime.
Photo by Doug Sasse, d3photography.com

“It’s tough to shoot the ball in an arena this big in the national championship for the first time,” Krikorian said. “You have to find a way. For us, that was getting to the paint. These guys found a way to make it happen.” 

Everything seemed to go right for Mount Union in the game’s opening minutes, to the delight of the very vocal — and very large — purple contingent inside the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. 

Trey Barber put CNU ahead on a putback at the 18:31 mark for the game’s first points, and as it turned out, the Captains’ last lead of the half. 15 seconds later, Parker’s first 3-pointer of the afternoon claimed a 3-2 advantage for Mount Union, igniting what proved to be a crucial 14-2 scoring spurt. 

Collen Gurley’s driving layup capped the run, with Mount Union leading by double digits for the first time, 14-4. And while the offense’s effectiveness kept the Purple Raiders in control, the defensive intensity from the visitors from Alliance held the Captains at bay. 

“The credit in the first half goes completely to Mount Union,” Krikorian said. “They stood us up. They were physical. In the first half, we were dribbling around, trying to navigate it. That wasn’t working.” 

CNU tried, without Mount Union’s success, to get the ball to the interior and create opportunities at the rim in the game’s first 20 minutes. While things picked up offensively for the Captains as the half progressed — they closed the half on a 14-3 run — CNU missed 12 straight shots in the span of Mount Union’s dominant start, going over seven minutes without converting a field goal until Hines’ layup made it a nine-point game with 6:57 remaining. 

“This group really embraced brotherhood this year,” Krikorian said of what was said in the huddle after falling behind by double digits. “They are an incredibly emotional group. They want to win so bad. When things aren’t going their way, they aren’t afraid to tell somebody who isn’t holding their weight what they need to do.”

CNU chased from behind for the rest of the opening half. They had chances, but Mount Union simply had an answer every time. 

The Captains cut the deficit to 29-26 at halftime, the product of four points from Hines in the final minute, including a buzzer-beating jump shot that rolled around the rim before dropping in. 

But the Purple Raiders scored six of the first 10 points in the second half, and consecutive 3-pointers from Darrell Newsom and Jeffery Mansfield extended the lead to 41-32 in the span of just 33 seconds. 

That lead grew to 45-35 with 13:55 left, but it did not last. CNU only trimmed it as the second half progressed, getting within three points of the Mount Union lead on three occasions before Caleb Furr’s 3-pointer, off of a Purple Raider turnover, knotted the score at 49 apiece. From that point on, the momentum shifts came as quickly as the offensive possessions themselves. 

“Once they got it to seven, we got a little stale there,” Fuline said. “We had some foul trouble, having to take Jeffery [Mansfield] out and Braedon [Poole] out. We came back from that, and when everybody thought we were going to get the lead back [CNU] just made a three or got a big bucket.” 

With exactly seven minutes left, Barber extended the CNU lead from a single point to three, as his putback off the glass made it 54-51. Nine seconds later, Mansfield countered with a 3-pointer for Mount Union, tying the score once again. That lasted just 12 seconds, though, as Furr, whose presence on the floor for the Captains grew as the contest progressed, swished another 3-pointer, regaining CNU’s advantage. 

“(Furr) made them when he had to,” Fuline said of Furr postgame. 

Caleb Furr celebrates after his four 3-pointers helped the Captains get to the postgame celebration.
Photo by Doug Sasse, d3photography.com

From that point on, CNU maintained the lead, staying aggressive on the boards, as the Captains outrebounded Mount Union 21-18 in the second half.

“In the last nine trips to the tournament, seven of those times that we lost, we were outrebounded,” Krikorian said. “I said, ‘If we’re going to go down, we have to go down fighting. We have to compete on the glass.’ These guys took it to heart all year.”

With plenty of heart, and an unwavering fight, CNU had its shining moment on Saturday evening. It will not be a game soon forgotten.

“They had each other’s back,” Krikorian said of his players. “They made the big plays when they needed to, none bigger than Trey’s there at the end.”

CNU’s victory on Saturday night sets up the opportunity for more history to be made, as no school has ever had its men’s and women’s teams win a national title in the same season. But with the Captains’ victory in Fort Wayne, and the women winning 56-51 at Rhode Island College in the national semifinals, that possibility is on the table. 

The D-III women’s national championship game will be contested in Dallas on April 1. 

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