Redemption. That was the only thing on the mind of the senior star point guard of the Seattle Pacific men’s basketball team on Saturday night. Redemption for missed free throws, for near-wins, for an overtime loss, for tournament heartbreak, all against the team’s fiercest rival.
This notion spurred his scoring on: 10 for 19 from the field, four for eight from behind the three-point line, and 12 for 13 from the charity stripe. At the end of it all, David Downs had a new career high of 36 points, and his team had swept Western Washington in the regular season.
“There’s been a lot of disappointment in the last two years against Western,” Downs said. “Particularly when we faced them on the road last year, it was the same sort of situation. Up by three, but then I missed four free throws at the end of the game, and we lost it. To be able to make them down the stretch this time and pull off the win was really important to prove to myself. It definitely was a special night.”
In addition to Downs’ landmark performance (which earned him GNAC Player of the Week) were a few key, clutch plays by the team’s other senior leader, forward Patrick Simon, in the final minutes. With 1:33 left to play, he nailed a trey to boost the Falcons’ lead to six. The Vikings pulled within two points with 1.8 seconds left, but Simon sank a free throw to make it a three-point cushion.
He then eliminated any chance for WWU to tie it by stealing the subsequent inbound pass, securing the 81-78 win.
The victory marks the team’s first sweep over their toughest Great Northwest Athletic Conference foe and solidifies a shift in the upper hand for the series, which has been dominated by the Vikings the past couple years.
The Vikings swept the Falcons in each of the past two regular seasons. The Falcons were able to pull off a buzzer-beating conference tournament title win over their rival last year, but have fallen short to them in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Division-II Tournaments in both 2012 and 2013. As such, Saturday night’s win was extremely important in maintaining and building upon the squad’s momentum.
“We definitely feel good,” Downs said. “We have so many guys on our team right now that are playing such good basketball.”
Downs is quick to give recognition to his teammates that have helped contribute to the team’s current 11-game win streak and No.13 national ranking.
“(Junior forward) Matt Borton has given us such a lift,” Downs said. “He’s rebounding like crazy and finding open shots. He’s really evolved since the start of the season and added an element we needed. (Junior guard) Riley Stockton is playing his best basketball right now. We have guys coming off the bench like (sophomore forward) Mitch Penner, (junior point guard) Ryan Todd and (sophomore forward) Brendan Carroll. We don’t lose when we have those guys stepping up.”
Downs also noted the importance of the small, mechanical things when it comes to pulling out wins. In the aforementioned road loss against the Vikings in February of last year, the Falcons missed their last seven free throws. In Saturday’s win, they successfully converted four of their last five and 21 out of 30 overall.
“Ever since our hiccup early in the season when we lost those two straight games, we have focused on winning each and every game,” Downs said. “We work hard in practice on whatever we need to do to prepare for each individual game. Whether that’s free throws, boxing out, working on arm sets, we put forth our full effort to be ready to win.”
Coupled with a WWU loss to Montana State Billings and an SPU win over Simon Fraser on Thursday, the Falcons have gained a two-and-a-half game lead in conference standings. With only two games left on their regular season schedule, they appear in good shape to earn a No.1 seed in the GNAC tournament.
For now, though, the only matchup on their radar is Saturday night’s home contest against MSUB. The game tips of at 7 p.m. at Royal Brougham Pavilion.
“It may sound cliché, but Coach Looney says everyday to ‘Just do what we do,’ ” Downs said.