It’s a pretty good week for Christopher Newport men’s basketball coach John Krikorian when an in-season tournament championship that featured a game for the ages was only the second-most important event.
Krikorian’s wife, Emily, gave birth to the couple’s first son, Jack, a couple of days after the Captains won their CNU Point Plaza Invitational.
CNU (4-0) won the first four-overtime game in the history of the program Saturday, holding off Wesley 81-79. Twenty-four hours later, the Captains edged John Carroll 85-84 for the title, with the very pregnant Emily Krikorian and the couple’s two daughters, Lillian and Katherine, in attendance.
“The weekend was kind of hairy,” Krikorian said. “The trainers were ready to go, in case anything happened. We had a pretty good plan in place.”
Maybe a more finely tuned plan for possible labor and childbirth than the Captains’ basketball team had. CNU has only two seniors, and eight freshmen and sophomores, among its top 11 players.
“We’re excited about our youth and depth and talent,” Krikorian said, “but we know that our inexperience at times is going to lead to some challenges.”
The Captains outplayed both Wesley and John Carroll for lengthy stretches, but were unable to hold second-half leads. During the four-overtime game against Wesley, Krikorian began to wonder if the Captains might just play straight through to Sunday. The game featured 14 ties and 11 lead changes.
“By the third one, I had no idea what overtime period we were in,” he said. “They told me after the game we had four. I had no clue. You could have told me two, you could have told me 10, I had no idea. I just knew we kept playing.”
Krikorian thought the Captains lost at the end of the first overtime period, but Wesley forward David Langan missed a short shot at the buzzer.
CNU sophomore guard Mike Cherry, voted the tournament’s outstanding player, scored 28 points against Wesley, despite a poor shooting performance from the field. He hit 15 of 17 free throws, to offset 6-for-19 shooting and 1-for-11 from 3-point range.
Cherry played 54 of 60 minutes. Forward Nik Biberaj played 44 minutes. Ten players logged at least 13 minutes.
Krikorian instructed everyone who played significant minutes Saturday to take an ice bath to aid recovery. He tapered Sunday’s pre-game shootaround to a simple walk-through.
Cherry came back refreshed against John Carroll in the title game. He scored 26 points on 8 of 15 shooting, hitting 6 of 8 from 3-point range. His jump shot with three seconds remaining was the game winner.
“He’s a terrific player and an excellent shooter,” Krikorian said. “I wasn’t even worried about him. He’s not going to have two bad shooting games in a row. He’s such a confident kid in his ability. He came out firing Sunday, almost to prove a point. That’s just the type of player he is.”
The challenge of preparing the players for Sunday was as much mental as physical.
“We just told them, you’re kids – 18, 19, 20 years old," Krikorian said. "You’re resilient. You should be ready to go.”
The difference against John Carroll, however, probably was Tra Benefield. The Captains’ junior and second-leading scorer missed Saturday’s game to attend a family funeral in Georgia. He and his father and sister drove through the night and returned at 5 a.m. Sunday. He finished with 12 points and eight rebounds and played 39 of 40 minutes.
“While maybe he didn’t get as good a sleep as everyone else, he was the freshest guy on the team,” Krikorian said. “It was huge to have him back. I don’t know that we could have really rallied without him.”
Besides the usual suspects of Cherry, Biberaj and Benefield, the Captains got valuable contributions from senior Jon Snead, sophomore Bryan Stith and freshmen Connor Laframboise and Patrick Fehl.
The weekend’s downer was the loss of sophomore guard Justin Watson. His foot had been bothering him for weeks, and he was in much discomfort after playing 25 minutes against Wesley. He missed the John Carroll game and underwent foot surgery earlier this week. He is expected to miss at least six weeks.
Every day is a learning experience for a young team, and Krikorian believes that those 2 1/2 games will pay dividends.
“It’s going to help us, there’s no doubt,” he said. “We learned so much in those two games. We faced a ton of adversity. We gave up leads. We had all sorts of breakdowns. Yet we came out with a win. We preach to our guys that winning covers a multitude of sins. But I think the guys really were awakened and realized that, hey, if we don’t finish games, it’s going to cost us.”
The Captatins open USA South play Saturday with a trip to Maryville, then travel to St. Mary’s in Maryland next week.
“We’re going to continue to get tested,” Krikorian said. “If we can win the close ones along the way, great. If we lose, we’re going to learn, too. The focus remains on growing and not necessarily winning at this point.”Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times