SPU squeaks by Crusaders

Despite being the conference leader in field goal percentage, the Falcons struggled to find their outside-shooting rhythm Wednesday night. The solution? Dominate the paint.

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The Falcons entered the game leading the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) in shooting percentage at 52.3 percent per game. The Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) Crusaders came into the game with the second best shooting percentage at 50.5 percent per game. However, neither team shot well Wednesday night, and both teams had to rely heavily on their defense and interior scoring.

After shooting only 38.7 percent in the first half, SPU went down low to their big man, junior center Rafael Moreira, for a change of pace. Moreira finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds while converting 6-of-9 shot attempts. The Brazilian transfer from Eastern Utah Junior College recorded his fourth double-double of the year.

"He isn’t our main focus on offense," Head Coach Jeff Hironaka said of Moreira. "Rafael has improved a lot. He isn’t turning the ball over a lot anymore."

Both teams shot poorly in the first half, the Falcons only making 12 of their 31 attempts from the field and 1 of their 9 from three-point range. NNU wasn’t much better, shooting 39.3 percent (11-of-28) and 3-of-9 beyond the arc.

"They tried to slow the tempo down. Shooting is a rhythm," Hironaka said. "I don’t think they were in a rhythm, not to take anything away from our guys. Our guys did do a good job of taking their shots away."

That is when SPU started to pound the Crusaders down low.

"They were zoning us," Hironaka said. "They tried to take the inside away by making us shoot from outside. The second half we tried to attack the basket and get the ball closer to the basket."

The Falcons outscored the Crusaders 44-22 in the paint. SPU’s first nine baskets in the second half were layups. The Falcons shot 60 percent (15-of-25) after halftime, improving their game percentage to 48.2 (27-of-56).

Sophomore guard Chris Banchero led the Falcons with 18 points and five assists. Junior forward Rob Diederichs added 10 points.

The game was tied 35-35 early in the second half, but the Falcons went on a 9-2 run to take a slight command in the game. Junior guard Brandon Larrieu hit a three-pointer with 10:43 left in the game, which ended eight straight misses from beyond the arc. The three-pointer gave the Falcons their largest lead, 51-42.

With 34.4 seconds left, Crusaders forward Kendall Gielow sank a pair of free throws to cut the Falcons’ lead to 61-59. Larrieu was fouled with 20.3 seconds remaining and hit the first of his two free throws.

NNU junior guard Louie Beech got the rebound and attempted a three pointer, but it bounced harmlessly off the rim. Falcons’ senior forward Casey Reed wound up with the ball and was fouled with 0.9 seconds left. Reed hit the first free throw, but missed the second one, ending the game 63-59.

With the win, the Falcons (11-5, 4-1 GNAC) continued their dominance against the Crusaders (10-5, 2-3 GNAC), beating them the last six of seven games, and now lead the all-time series 42-22.

The Falcons have been playing good defense all season. They shut down the Crusaders’ explosive shooting and currently force 14.9 turnovers per game.

"We just changed a lot of the defense throughout the game," Banchero said. "Adam Wardell is a defensive stopper. In practice we practice all these defensive drills. It has really paid off."

The Falcons have one week of rest, and they travel to Western Oregon University tomorrow to play the Wolves. Tip off is at 7 p.m.

"They are very big. We can’t allow them to get the ball down low," Hironaka said. "They have guys who can shoot the perimeter and score down low."

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Title: SPU squeaks by Crusaders | Author: David Tristano | Section: Sports | Published Date: 2009-01-28 | Internal ID: 5922