On Feb. 22, 2011, young, inexperienced freshman David Downs took the court as a replacement for point guard Chris Banchero, who was, at the time, the star senior player for the SPU men’s basketball team.
Downs played 34 minutes in one of the first major games of his collegiate career, an 84-70 win over Great Northwest Athletic Conference opponent Western Washington. Little did he know it would take almost three years to step off the court in Bellingham with another smile on his face.
“It was weird sitting in the locker room after the game with all the guys and thinking out loud, ‘This place hasn’t been very kind to us,’ “Downs said. “It was an amazing feeling to finally walk away with a win again.”
Not only did the Falcons win, they were dominant, controlling the game throughout and cruising to a 76-60 victory on Jan. 15.
In addition to breaking their own loss streak, they snapped a formidable 36-game home victory stretch by the Vikings that dated back to 2012.
“We were obviously very motivated coming into the game,” junior post Cory Hutsen said. “It’s always a battle with these guys, so we came in very prepared. We worked hard in practice and came in with a fire under our belly.”
The Falcons and Vikings have built a captivating rivalry over the last three years.
Since that February 2011 matchup, WWU had won 7 out of the last 8 showdowns, including the last two years in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Division-II Tournament. The recent history between the opponents provided huge implications for the Falcons’ momentum moving forward, and the result has placed their confidence at a season high.
“It’s a big one for us,” Hutsen said. “It’s the one that we marked on our calendar early in the season. To be able to win big like that in their environment says a lot about where we are right now.”
Senior forward Patrick Simon paced the Falcons as the star of the game with 29 points, setting the tone right out of the gate with 20 in the first half.
He shot at a lights-out 77 percent, going 10 for 13 and 4 for 6 from behind the three-point arc. He shined on the defensive end as well, pulling down 7 rebounds.
“Patrick’s a lot of fun to play with,” Downs said. “He’s just so talented that you just have to step back and appreciate it. People will come up to me after the game and ask how he’s only playing for SPU. Though I received preseason All-American honors, I think he deserves just as much recognition if not more.”
Downs and Hutsen added 18 points apiece in the win. Overall, the team shot very efficiently, at 56.8 percent. They out-rebounded the Vikings at 27-21 and never trailed after 4-2.
“Because we were playing with such a high level of passion and focus, it is no surprise that we beat them by as much as we did,” Simon said.
The Falcons now sit comfortably in first place in GNAC standings, and following an easy 73-49 victory over Simon Fraser on Saturday, they have moved to 15-4 on the season and 6-2 in conference games.
“We just got to keep focused and put all our mental energy into each individual game,” Hutsen said. “We’re feeling good, but we can’t get too comfortable. Anyone can beat any team on any given night.”