Falcons win GNAC, earn No. 2 seed

When the NCAA Division-II Tournament Selection Committee announced the teams for the West Region on Sunday afternoon, a glaring omission stood out. For the first time in three years, the Seattle Pacific men’s basketball team can guarantee it won’t lose to rival Western Washington in the postseason, as the Vikings failed to earn a berth in the national tournament.

“We’re excited to play some new opponents,” senior point guard David Downs said. “We definitely think about the fact that we’re the only GNAC team, and I’m guessing our fellow tournament teams are pretty relieved to not see Western in there.”

As for the Falcons, they secured an automatic bid in the tournament with a hard-fought 65-62 victory over WWU in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament championship game on Saturday night. The win clinched a GNAC sweep for SPU, as they had the top record during the regular season.
“Obviously, we were really thrilled,” senior forward Patrick Simon said. “It’s always fun to beat Western for once, and to win both the regular season and tournament title is a big deal.”

The feat is a Falcon first, as the GNAC Tournament only began in 2011.
It is their second tournament crown in a row, and against Western again, following a last-second game-winning shot by then-senior Jobi Wall in last year’s championship.

“Last year wasn’t quite as sweet since we didn’t win the regular season title,” Downs said. “We kind of felt like we were sharing the title with Western, so to be able to validate our regular season crown with that win was a really good feeling.”

Factoring in the dual-titles and SPU’s strong season overall, the selection committee bestowed a No. 2 seed in the West Region for the NCAA Tournament. There are eight teams total in the region and 64 teams in the bracket overall.

“We would’ve liked a No. 1 seed, but when it comes down to it, we still have to beat all those teams anyway,” Simon said. “We’re looking forward to this next weekend and preparing.”

SPU will not have to worry about beating WWU, who has defeated them each of the last two years in the West Regional final of the tournament. In fact, the Falcons are the lone conference representative in the Big Dance this year, which came as an unpleasant surprise to head coach Ryan Looney.

“I think it’s shocking,” Looney said. “There’s teams in our conference that had way too good of seasons to not be playing in this tournament.”

The NCAA Tournament has become a very familiar experience for the SPU men’s basketball program, as this marks their 10th year in a row making an appearance, the longest active streak among all Division-II teams.

“The biggest thing we preach everyday is consistency,” Looney said. “There’s no greater representation of that than that number.”

That consistency has lent itself to cultivating experience among the team’s players on this grand stage. With all their key players having played in the tournament before, they have a leg up when it comes to handling the nerves and pressure on their shoulders.

“This is nothing new to us,” Simon said. “We just have to go out there and play our game and stay locked into our plan.”

This year’s West Region games will be played in Coussoulis Arena in San Bernardino, Calif., home of the region’s No. 1 seed Cal State San Bernardino.
The location is the first one for the regional games out of Washington since the 2008 tournament. The Falcons only view the extra distance as a possible advantage, though.

“It’ll probably help us,” Looney said. “If you look at our schedule closely, we’re the most-traveled team in the west region. We have no problem playing away from home, and to be honest, I don’t think there’s any difference in our performance close or far.”

This will be the final NCAA Tournament for departing seniors Simon and Downs. While Simon transferred from Washington State prior to last season, Downs has played in a Falcon uniform all four years. He credits the success the team has had in his time here to the culture of the program as a whole.

“I think, for one, it’s a really desirable place to play basketball,” Downs said. “It’s in one of the nicest areas in Seattle, and Coach Looney has done a really great job in recruiting high-caliber players here. And all the guys have really bought into the system and realized the value of putting in the work before each game.”

The squad aims to make the school an even more enticing place to play by adding the program’s first-ever national championship title to their mantle.They begin that pursuit Friday at 2:30 p.m. with a matchup against No. 7 seed Cal State Stanislaus. All tournament games will be available to stream on the official NCAA website.

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