20 is magic number

No, "March Madness" is not called that because of the intense studying done on the part of students cramming for finals. It is not because the weather here goes through about a bajillion different phases trying to figure out what season it is. No, it’s because of 64 teams that have trained all season, shed tons of blood, sweat and tears to get to where they are now, and a 30-inch round, orange ball that’s supposed to fit through a basket perched high above the players’ heads. Put the ball in the basket more times than the other team, and you win, and your season moves on. Lose, and you go home.

That is the nature of March Madness in a nutshell — "Win, or go home" — and the SPU men’s basketball team has good intentions and the skill to not come home for quite some time. But before I delve into that goodness, let me enrich your brain as to how they got there over this past week. It all starts in Idaho.

Following a very motivating home win to finish off their season at Royal Brougham Pavilion, the Falcon men’s basketball team took off for their last stint in another state for the regular season. Where to? Flippin’ sweet Idaho, that’s where. The Falcons met Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) on their home court for their final meeting and hit a bit of a roadblock. With high hopes of securing a NCAA Division II men’s basketball tournament seeding, SPU got it thrown back in their face, falling 67-56 to the Crusaders. The loss all but eliminated their hopes of a conference title, falling two games behind conference leaders and in-state rival Western Washington University. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, 56 points over 40 minutes of play, is by far the lowest total the men’s team has had in any contest over the past seven years. The seniors (Ralph Steele, Jason Chivers and Jordan Lee) who combined for 38 points in SPU’s 82-73 win over Western Oregon University last Saturday, were shut down to a mere 24 points, with Lee leading the team with 13 points on 6-10 shooting. Talk about being down at halftime again as well, SPU was behind 31-19 going into the locker room, and trimmed a 20 point deficit to eight in the second half, but never got any closer. Northwest Nazarene returned fire with a disheartening 16-2 run to seal the victory for the Crusaders, even though SPU scored the final 15 points of the game. Adding insult to injury, the loss caps a stint of 6 games, in which SPU has lost 4 of them.

But do not fret, for those Falcons are not the ones we know. The ones we know would go into a rival university’s house, on their senior night, when their season’s going to be over anyway and would like nothing more than to crush their opponents, and thoroughly throw it all back in their faces. My friends, that is precisely what the Falcons did last Saturday against cross-town rival Seattle University (SU), and just like Chivers said a week earlier, "20 is our magic number." With the win, SPU cinched a spot in the NCAA Division II West Regional Tournament, taking the No. 6 seed in a field of eight teams. SPU surprisingly was up 34-29 over SU at halftime of Saturday’s game, and led for virtually the entire duration. Repeating their performance at NNU, SPU fired away early in the second half, igniting a run of nine unanswered points during a 12-2 rout that all but assured the Falcons a victory. Helping SPU along with their rout, Jordan Lee kicked in 17 points and hit 7-10 charity shots, which boosted the Falcons’ free-throw percentage for the game to an amazing 23-28. Also scoring in double digits for the Falcons were junior Tony Binetti with 13, sophomore Dustin Bremmerman also with 13 and Jason Chivers, who paced the team with 22 points on 9-16 shooting and a near perfect 4-5 from the charity line. And to add icing to the cake for the Falcons, the oh-so-glorious chant of "Up by 20! (Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap)" was resounded loud and proud from the SPU fans in attendance that night at Connolly Center. What a way to end a regular season. With the win, SPU improved their record to 13-1 when scoring 80 or more points in a game. Final score: SPU 80, SU 62.

While the Falcons may have dropped five spots to the No. 6 seed in the region from being No. 1 earlier this year, they still made it in, and don’t have to travel out of state for the tournament either. Western Washington University clinched the No.1 spot this past week and will host the tournament for the men, while SPU hosts it for the women, just a mere 90 miles south. The berth marks the ninth time in the last 12 years that SPU has made the post-season, and finishing off the year at 20-8, they will face Cal Poly Pomona (21-6) at 12:30 p.m. on Friday. The Falcons have not faced Cal Poly yet, but according to Coach Hironaka, "They are disciplined, play good defense and execute very well." Sounds to me a lot like our Falcons when they’re on their game. Being the No. 6 seed in the tournament means that, providing SPU wins their first game, they will face the winner of the Hawaii Hilo vs. Chico State game. The Falcons have met both of these teams earlier on this season, beating Chico State, but falling to Hawaii Hilo. But on a positive note, SPU has won its opening game of the Regional tournament six out of the last seven times they’ve made it in. How far will the men’s team go this year? Well, the regional championship game is on Monday, and the Elite Eight starts on March 23 in Grand Forks, N.D., so you might have to wait a while to find out.

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Title: 20 is magic number | Author: Ryan Phillips | Section: Sports | Published Date: 2005-03-09 | Internal ID: 4418