Men’s basketball: ‘The key to our success is passion’

The Seattle Pacific men’s basketball team rode back from Lacey on Jan. 4 knowing that some serious changes had to be made. The team that had entered the season ranked No. 2 in the nation had just dropped two conference match-ups to normally beatable teams, falling  to 11-4 on the season. Head coach Ryan Looney had to get his Falcons back on the right flight pattern.

“We got back late last Saturday night and kind of had a powwow; we got there about 11:30 [p.m.] and didn’t leave until about 1:30 [a.m.],” senior point guard David Downs said. “We just reevaluated where the season was going and where we wanted it to go, and we realized that the problem had nothing to do with basketball. It was all about our attitude and effort, and just how we mentally prepare for each game.”

SPU came off the Christmas break at a distinct disadvantage without the presence of senior forward Patrick Simon due to a wrist injury, and they only had three days of practice before heading out for two road games.

They weren’t able to overcome these challenges, as they lost 73-69 and 74-70 to Western Oregon and St. Martin’s, respectively.

“Last week coming off break was obviously a bit of a struggle for us,” Looney said. “Having Patrick out hurt was damaging, as he’s not someone we can easily replace. We also thought our energy wasn’t very good, from top all the way down.”

The late-night emergency meeting served to spark a fire in the Falcons, as they called the subsequent week’s practice the best of the year thus far. They carried that effort into last Thursday night’s 66-46 home blowout of visitor Alaska Fairbanks.

“It was our best week of practice all year, and we talked in the locker room about how we won this game early in the week,” Downs said.

Looney cited unselfishness as one of the biggest differences from the previous week, and in effect, what led to the dominating performance.

“We thought we could play a little bit more unselfishly on offense, and for the first time all year, I think our guys really stuck to that mantra,” Looney said.

That unselfish play contributed to a superb shooting night for the Falcons, who shot 63 percent from the field overall and converted an even better 70 percent of attempts behind the three-point line.

Overall camaraderie among the team was visibly as high, which junior guard Riley Stockton noted as a vital benefit.

“Being positive with one another is really key for us,” Stockton said. “I think supporting the other guys and having everyone be involved is really important. The bench was fantastic tonight. The fans were really good, and I really believe getting back to having fun on the court is really important for us.”

On top of top-notch teamwork was another superstar performance from first-team Sporting News preseason All-American Downs. Downs scored 23 points, only missing one shot and making all three treys he attempted. When factoring in Downs’ 21-point showcase in Saturday’s 81-74 win over Alaska Anchorage, the Falcons’ court leader has now achieved five straight 20-point games, as well as climbed into the No. 6 spot all-time for SPU scorers at 1,488 points.

In addition to Downs, sophomore forward Mitch Penner had a big impact off the bench in Saturday’s win, scoring 17 points, 14 of those coming in the first half, in which SPU established a solid lead of 41-28.

SPU managed to hold Anchorage to 16 points less than their Great Northwest Athletic Conference leading 90.6 season scoring average.

Despite the positive developments the past week, the Falcons know they still have room for improvement and need to maintain their motivation.

“We can still get more solid on the defensive end,” Stockton said. “We’ve got to finish plays down there, finish box-outs. We give up too many defensive rebounds.”

SPU now stands at 13-4 on the season and in second place in the GNAC at 4-2.

The Falcons will take on their rival Western Washington (10-3, tied for first in GNAC) in Bellingham tonight.

The Falcons have lost in the NCAA Division II Tournament in both the past two years to the Vikings.

The game will tip off at 7 p.m. and be locally televised on ROOT Sports.

“It will just come down to everybody being on the same page, no one having their own agendas and doing what the coaches ask of us,” Downs said. “The key to our success is passion.”