VIRGINIA BEACH -- That adage about bending, but not breaking held true for the Virginia Wesleyan College men's basketball team on Saturday.
Christopher Newport University's Captains kept the pressure on VWC by cutting into leads throughout the NCAA Division III second round tournament before an overflow crowd at the Jane P. Batten Student Center, but the host Marlins never broke.
In fact, the Marlins never trailed en route to posting a thrilling 80-69 victory.
Virginia Wesleyan (23-7) advances to the round of 16 to face Massachusetts' Williams College (25-4) on Saturday, March 16. The site is still to be determined.
Virginia Wesleyan, which defeated CNU for the second time this season, opened up a nine point lead early in the second half, only to see the Captains (22-6) ridge the play of Nik Biberaj (Fairfax/South County), Paul Meredith (Hampton/Bethel) and Mike Cherry (Lewiston, N.C./Bertie) to eventually tie the game at 55 with 8:20 remaining to be played.
That's where VWC's Colby Heard (Virginia Beach/Tallwood) stepped up to take over for the Marlins. The 6-foot-6, 225 pound junior forward dominated inside, scoring seven points in a span of three minutes to help Virginia Wesleyan open up a 64-58 lead.
Seconds later junior DJ Woodmore (Virginia Beach/Landstown) knocked down a timely triple and Virginia Wesleyan owned a 67-58 lead heading into the final four minutes of competition.
A free throw by Meredith pulled CNU within a 67-61 count with 2:49 on the clock, but the Captains could get no closer the rest of the way. Seniors Tre' Ford (Falls Church/J.E.B. Stuart), Chris Teasley (Newport News/Menchville) andChris Astorga (Suffolk/Virginia Beach Cape Henry Collegiate) came through with scores for the Marlins, who led 73-63 with only 52 seconds remaining to be played.
Virginia Wesleyan scored the first basket of the game when Woodmore nailed a triple seven seconds into the competition. CNU stayed close through most of the half, before Virginia Wesleyan made a brief run, 8-0, to open up a 27-17 lead with 4:05 showing in the half. The run was capped by an Astorga dunk off a Ford assist.
CNU kept matters from slipping away however, responding with an 8-2 run to end the half and cut Virginia Wesleyan's halftime lead to 31-27. Virginia Wesleyan scored the first two baskets of the second half though, including a Woodmore triple, to open up a 36-27 lead.
Teasley led five Marlins in double-figure scoring with 18 points. Heard hit 6-of-7 field goal attempts and added 17 points, Woodmore hit a game-high three triples and finished with 15 points, and Ford and Astorga added 13 points each. Ford hit 5-of-8 field goal attempts and Astorga was good on 4-of-9 shots.
Astorga also led all rebounding with 11, helping VWC to out-board CNU 38-32. Ford contributed with four assists and two steals, and Heard added three blocks.
Biberaj hit 11-of-14 shots inside and led all scoring with 25 points. He pulled down eight rebounds, as did Tra Benefield (Folkston, Ga./Evangel Christian, Va.). Benefield scored 16 points and Cherry tallied 12 points. Meredith dished out a game-high seven assists and had three steals.