When Seattle Pacific went looking for their third straight GNAC Championship, Western Washington University was on a 10-game win streak and had just beaten Western Oregon, the top team in the GNAC this year. But this didn’t scare senior center Cory Hutsen.
Hutsen put up a career-best 34 points and helped bring home the title for the third year in a row, with an 81-68 victory over the Vikings on March 7 in Billings, Montana. All three of Seattle Pacific’s (23-7, 13-5 GNAC) titles have come against arch-rival WWU (20-11, 11-7 GNAC).
“Western is obviously a big rival of ours, and winning this for the third year in a row is big,” sophomore guard Will Parker said. “I’m blessed to be a part of this team and that I get play with these guys.”
Hutsen racked up 23 points in the second half. Junior forward Mitch Penner also hit double digits, putting up 12 points. He also grabbed 11 rebounds for his fifth career double-double. SPU out-rebounded WWU by 14, with SPU grabbing 36 and Western grabbing 22.
Western beat SPU in both regular season matchups earlier this year, with scores of 68-66 in Bellingham and 82-72 in Seattle. But with this win, the Falcons clinch their spot in the WestRegional Division II tournament in Azusa, California.
WWU reached the GNAC final with a 76-56 quarterfinal win over No. 4 seed Alaska Anchorage and an 88-79 victory over No. 1 seed Western Oregon. SPU earned their spot in the title game after a bye in the first round and a 73-54 defeat of Northwest Nazarene University in the semifinals.
Senior forward Shawn Reid had a career day in the NNU matchup (14-16. 11-7 GNAC), putting up a team high 14 points. Reid had three 3-point baskets to supplement his stat sheet as well.
Senior guard Riley Stockton and Penner also scored in double digits, putting up 13 and 12, respectively. SPU won both contests against NNU earlier this year, and this one was no different. The Falcons rolled over the Crusaders, paving the way to the title game.
“It was good to come together as a team and take the win,” Stockton said. “This was obviously huge for us, and we’re looking to carry this momentum forward into the [national] tournament.”
SPU prepares to face BYU-Hawaii on March 13, with tip off set for 2:30 p.m. The Falcons faced off against the Seasiders once this year on Nov. 22. Seattle Pacific saw their 44-33 halftime lead disappear and went on to lose 87-74. Head coach Ryan Looney likes their chances this time around.
“We’ve had a lot of good teams and a lot of good players, but I don’t know that we’ve ever had a group that played as hard as this group is right now,” Looney said.
SPU looks to carry this momentum and stalwart approach forward in a quest for their first national title.