The Falcons return home from a five-game road trip having won four out of five, keeping them within one game of the conference lead and setting up the possibility for Saturday’s home game against Humboldt State to decide the conference championship.
The team’s last two road wins on Thursday and Saturday completed a season sweep of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s Alaskan teams, marking the first time in a decade that the Falcons have pulled off the sweep.
In Thursday’s game against the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves, SPU had to claw and fight the entire game to get the 95-86 win. The game went into overtime and was only decided when junior forward Yusef Aziz and junior guard Maurice Cato stepped up to take control of the game.
Aziz scored a season-high 26 points for the game but more importantly managed to keep the Falcons in the game by making two free-throws to force the overtime. In the extra time Aziz also managed to sink six of SPU’s first 12 points. Cato then drilled a three-pointer to put SPU ahead for good.
"Any time I’m able to provide a boost, I’m happy to," Cato said. "I’m confident in my shots. When there’s an opportunity I want it."
Cato’s late three-pointer helped to ignite a 12-3 scoring advantage to make the score 89-81 with 48 seconds to go in the overtime.
Senior center Eric Sandrin was also a notable contributor, finishing with a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds. Sandrin also had five assists and two blocked shots for the Falcons, and yesterday he was named GNAC co-player of the week.
The win was SPU’s first in Anchorage in over a decade and only its third win there in 21 previous tries.
Saturday’s game in Fairbanks had a much different tone, as the Falcons blew out the Nanooks 97-62.
None of SPU’s starters played more than 27 minutes, and Fairbanks hit a miserable 36 percent from the field.
Some unfamiliar names for the Falcons began to shine in their playing time on Saturday. Junior forward Jesse Keely had his best game this season, as did junior guard Aaron Bellessa. Both had season-high point totals of nine and eight points, respectively.
The Falcons hit an astonishing 62 percent from the field, a season-high. They also made 8-15 three-pointers and committed just five turnovers for the game. SPU led by as much as 39 points in the second half.
The Alaskan victories keep SPU in contention for the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship, and the Falcons are virtually assured a NCAA Division II berth.
With the Falcons’ road trips completed, they now return home to finish up. SPU has won its last 12 straight at home and hopes to keep its momentum going into the playoffs. But first they have to get by No. 5 Humboldt State.
Humboldt State and SPU were in a virtual dead heat when they met earlier this season. At that point the two teams were ranked only one spot away from each other in the national polls. Humboldt won the first meeting by a close margin, but the game was closely contested throughout with the lead changing hands several times.
Since the Humboldt game, SPU has slipped a bit in the polls after an additional loss to Western Washington, but the Falcons can make up ground with a victory against Humboldt on Saturday.
If SPU wins its game tomorrow night, Saturday’s Humboldt game will essentially decide the GNAC championship. Humboldt has a one-game lead coming into the game.
"We’ve been looking forward to this game for awhile," junior guard Maurice Cato said. "We’ve established a winning streak at home that we’re going to defend at all costs."
Before the Humboldt game, however, the Falcons must first take care of business against Western Oregon at 7 p.m. tomorrow in Brougham. The men then face the Jacks on Saturday in the regular-season closer at 7 p.m. The Falcons will also be honoring seniors Eric Sandrin, Nick Johnson and Brannon Stone, all playing in their final SPU home game, prior to tip-off.
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Title: Men move up to 9th with Alaska sweep | Author: Andrew Neff | Section: Sports | Published Date: 2002-02-27 | Internal ID: 2525