By ADAM HAGER
After posting an impressive 11-2 record entering the first week of spring semester classes, the Eagles took on 26th ranked and Capital Athletic Conference newcomer Christopher Newport University (11-4, 4-3) on Wednesday night at the Anderson Center.
A decisive 76-65 victory over the Captains put the Eagles at 6-1 in the CAC and helped push them up five spots to no. 15 in the national rankings.
Head coach Rod Wood is more than pleased with the team’s hot start.
“If you were to ask me before the season, would you take 11-2? I’d be ecstatic about it.”
After a 2-0 start to the season, a one-point loss at Hampden-Sydney looked to slow the Eagles down. Instead, the Eagles won nine games in a row and did not lose again until Jan. 8.
“Overall, it’s been a very pleasurable year, but I think that has less to do with the win-loss record and more to do with the guys are on the team and how hard they work,” Wood said. “As a coach, you want your team to play as close to maximum on a daily basis and my team does that.”
Impressive wins over St. Mary’s (Md.) and, in a double overtime thriller, Va. Wesleyan highlighted the nine game win streak before the Eagles eventually fell by one point to 16th ranked Wesley in Delaware.
Heading into last Wednesday night’s contest, Wood knew CNU would give their best shot coming off two losses of their own.
“I expect the best game they’ve played all year,” Wood said in a pregame interview. “They can’t afford to lose another one.”
A large and lively crowd at the Anderson Center helped the Eagles keep pace with the early barrage of 3-pointers from the Captains, who went 7-14 from beyond the arc in the first half.
Two quick fouls on senior forward and second leading scorer Dylan Farinet limited his minutes and impact on the game early on, despite still managing four early points.
Senior guard Bradley Riester, the team’s leading scorer at just under 20 points per game entering the contest, did not get a shot off until five minutes into the game and was held in check for the better part of the half.
“If I had to guess, they’re going to try to take Bradley Riester away,” Wood said before the game. “That’s what everybody else has done.”
Despite Wood’s somewhat prophetic remarks, the rest of the team started to heat up midway through the half as senior guard Dom Morra found Dajon Daniel, another senior guard, for a driving layup and a chance for a three point play at the 12:55 mark.
Sophomore forward John Yoxthimer saw 14 minutes of action and totaled eight points in the opening half.
The Eagles took the lead with five minutes to go in the half at 26-24 as back-to-back backcourt CNU turnovers led to easy layups.
Despite letting the Captains shoot 54.2% from the floor in the opening half, the Eagles took a 38-35 lead into the break, much to the help of 13 points off turnovers and hitting 13-17 free throws to CNU’s 2-4.
Six quick CNU points erased the Eagles’ narrow lead before Taylor Johnson’s three pointer put the Eagles back up 52-49 at the 13:20 mark.
Johnson, a junior guard and 46.7 percent three point shooter, finished with a game-high 19 points while connecting on nine of 10 free throws.
A hustle play and behind the back pass by Morra led to a three by Farinet with just under 10 minutes to go.
Riester, who only took two shots from the field in the second half and still finished with 10 points, connected on a three pointer on the left wing with 5:43 to play that sent the Eagles’ lead to 10.
Fourteen second half points from both Farinet and Johnson set the pace for the Eagles as they were eventually able to cruise in the last few minutes of the game before winning with a score of 76-65.
Just three days later on Saturday, the Eagles hosted Penn State Harrisburg (6-9, 3-4) at the Anderson Center for a Saturday afternoon contest.
A lopsided 88-47 win over the Nittany Lions put the Eagles at 7-1 in the CAC as they remain undefeated at home for the season.
A school-record 42 points in just 31 minutes by Farinet paced the Eagles as 13 players saw action on the court.
One more victory guarantees the Eagles a winning season. This would be the 11th season in the last 12 where the Eagles would finish with a winning record.
Regardless of how it ends, this year’s team is looking to improve on what has already been an incredible start.
The Eagles will take on Frostburg State at the Anderson Center at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 29. Admission is free for students with a UMW ID and $5 for general admission.