Poor first halves marred the Cougar Classic tournament for the SPU men’s basketball team. The Falcons’ record stayed at .500 (3-3), after splitting a pair of games at the tournament in suburban Los Angeles over this long holiday weekend.
Despite a rough first half in the Falcons’ first road game against tournament host Azusa Pacific, the Falcons were able to fight back and win with a score of 73-68.
First-year forward Tony Miller came off the bench and had a key first half, scoring 16 points, keeping the Falcons within striking distance.
“We had a big second half run. We were down five at the half,” Head Coach Grant Leep said. “Guys made some plays that allowed us to only be down five at the half; we were pretty fortunate to only be down by that margin, but we need to get off to better starts.”
Despite a bad ankle, sophomore forward Coleman Wooten had another dominant performance, pouring in 19 of his 21 points and 14 rebounds right in the second half to lead the Falcons to a victory.
“As usual [Wooten] played both games like they were his last while also nursing a bad ankle,” Miller said. “His scoring and rebounding were big for us.”
“[Wooten] has just been a monster all year, it has been awesome,” Leep said.
The Falcons were able to win the rebounding battle 43-32 and had a major edge in free throws, hitting 22 of 27.
Another notable performance for the Falcons was by junior forward Sam Simpson, who had another great all around game, scoring 11 points, seven rebounds, one steal, and two blocks. Unfortunately, Simpson was hurt sometime after the Azusa Pacific game and was not able to play against Point Loma. He is expected to be out for some time.
In the second game against the Point Loma Sea Lions, who are led by former SPU Head Coach Ryan Looney, it was the same story for the Falcons but with a different outcome.
Another rough first half from the Falcons proved to be too much to overcome. The Falcons were able to make a game of it, cutting into a 15-point lead with 5:51 left in the game, then down to just four with 1:16 left. Ultimately, the Falcons fell to Point Loma 86-79.
In the place of an injured Simpson, Miller had his first start of his collegiate career. Miller played another great game, netting 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Wooten’s former coach was able to slow Wooten down for the first time this season, holding him to an eight point, eight rebound game.
Helping make up for the absence of Simpson and the slow night of Wooten, the seniors stepped up. Center Joe Rasmussen had a big game, adding 18 points, and guards Will Parker and Olivier-Paul Betu combined for 22 points.
“Point Loma was dominant around the hoop, and their second-chance shots really hurt us,” Miller said. “We went on a run late in the second half with great shooting from [Parker], but it was too little too late. We’re looking forward to playing them again.”
The Falcons’ slow starts have been an issue in all but one game so far this season. This is an issue that Leep plans to address, and he expects to see improvement with time and experience.
“If we can start getting the ball moved faster, if we can start with some stops defensively to maybe fuel some opportunities to push the ball out in transition and find some easy baskets right away, I think that is something that can really help us,” Leep said. “But again, that is something that comes with a lot of effort, and the one thing we haven’t had to worry about with this group is how hard we play. Our guys play extremely hard, so we are going to get there — it is just a matter of when. And we need to have that urgency to do it right away.”
Next for the Falcons are two home games, Simon Fraser on Thursday and Western Washington on Saturday. This will mark the beginning of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference play.
“This is a group that is so much fun to be with and be around,” Leep said. “They genuinely care about one another and how we are performing, and I’m excited about what the future holds for this group.”