This past week, the SPU men’s basketball team avenged their losses earlier in the season to Northwest Nazarene and Central Washington but fell to Saint Martin’s for a second time.
The Falcon’s record now stands at 11-14, 7-10 in the GNAC, dropping them to eighth place. SPU will likely need to win out the rest of the season to claw their way back into the conference tournament, as only the top six teams make the cut.
“We are kind of in a position where our backs are against the wall, and we have to win a couple here,” Assistant Coach Matt Borton said. “The guys have responded really well, and we are starting to play as a team. The ball is just moving.”
In their rematch with Northwest Nazarene, the Falcons won 83-68, propelled by a strong first half. Leading the way for the Falcons was star first-year forward Tony Miller, who scored 19 of his game-high 24 points in the first half.
“We played solid team basketball against NNU,” junior forward Nathan Streufert said. “Guys were unselfish and shared the ball and made the right plays all night long.”
The Falcons jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. SPU shot 45.5 percent from the three in the first half, helping them take a 13 point lead into the half.
The Falcon’s hot shooting continued as they hit 6-12 (50 percent) from beyond the arch.
In the previous two games, the Falcons struggled with turnovers, committing over 20 in each. Against NNU, the Falcons kept that number down to a satisfying 10.
“We made it a goal to have more assists than turnovers, and I think we ended up with 17 assists to 10 turnovers,” Streufert said. “We were focused and did what it took to win.”
Redshirt sophomore forward Coleman Wooten did not have his best statistical night (14 points and seven rebounds), but, as noted by teammates, he played his best basketball game of the season, keeping the offense flowing and making the right plays to help allow the Falcons to shoot such a high percentage.
“He is really good at getting in the lane and making things happen, and when he starts making the right decision on when to shoot, when to draw the foul and when to kick it out, that’s when we really start rolling,” Borton said.
In the second game, despite losing Miller due to an injury worsened in Thursday’s 83-68 win over Northwest Nazarene, the Falcon’s strong team play propelled them to a 79-61 win over Central Washington.
“Similar to NNU, we just played great team basketball,” Streufert said. “Everyone was dialed into what they needed to do. With [Miller] out with a foot injury, everyone stepped up and did the things that he normally does. We defended extremely well, Dom Hunter is leading the GNAC in scoring at right around 24 points per game and we held him to one basket and three points.”
In front of a nearly full house, there in part to celebrate the 125th anniversary of SPU, the Falcons again jumped out with an early lead and never looked back.
“I think we played the hardest we have all year … everybody that came into the game made something positive happen; it was a one of our true team wins,” Borton said.
With Miller out, Wooten aggressively scored 24 points and grabbed 11 boards.
Strong ball handling from senior guard Olivier Paul-Betu (12 points and four assists) and first-year guard Sharif Khan (eight points and three steals) put pressure on Central Washington’s guards and drew foul after foul to get CWU in early second half foul trouble, allowing the Falcons to maintain their lead throughout the second half.
“[Khan] and [Betu] handled the pressure really well tonight,” Borton said.
One of the players helping pick up for the loss of Miller’s production was Streufert, who played very well against both NNU (five points, seven rebounds, two steals and one block) and CWU (seven points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two blocks).
In the Falcon’s final home game this season, the Falcons honored their seniors: guard Will Parker, Joe Rasmussen, Betu and Chris Bench.
Unfortunately, the seniors did not end their Brougham Pavilion careers the way that they would have liked to. The short handed Falcons fought hard again, but their furious comeback came up short, losing to Saint Martin’s 77-80.
Though SPU’s Miller returned back to the line-up after missing the previous game, the Falcons played without star Wooten who was out sick with the stomach flu. Miller’s game-high 32 points and game-high 15 rebounds proved not enough for the Falcons to overcome balanced scoring by Saint Martin’s, as Saint Martin’s had five players score in double digits.
A positive for SPU going into the crucial last three games of the regular season was the return of senior guard Will Parker, although he played limited minutes, in addition to Miller’s return and the hope that Wooten will make a speedy recovery from his illness.
The Falcons need to solve their road woes with a three game road stretch to finish off the regular season. First up, they play Montana State Billings at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16, followed by a game against Western Washington at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 22. Then, in their last game of the regular season, they play Simon Fraser at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25.
“We are finally starting to get things worked out at the right time, and hopefully we can go on a run here late,” Borton said.
“Our season really hangs in the balance at this point,” Streufert said. “We are tied for fifth place in the GNAC and the top six teams make the conference tournament, so every game and win is important.
Our seniors only have a few games left in their careers, so it would be awesome to get them a few more games by making the playoffs.”