In a season that was far from perfect, with a young team that faced a lot of adversity and has struggled until February to achieve their first conference win, the men’s basketball team put up a perfect ending.
“Man, you know what,” said senior Gibran Sewani, one of two seniors playing their last collegiate game. “There was something in the air. I feel like it was just going to happen from the beginning — I didn’t say that, though. I didn’t want to jinx them.”
Saturday night, SFU put up a dominant performance against a team playing for their playoff lives. And in the end, the Clan got to play spoiler — something they missed out on Thursday — and ensured that Seattle Pacific’s 12-year NCAA Division II playoff streak ended — which included the entire six-year existence of the GNAC tournament.
They beat a team that had trounced them 88–66 on opening day of conference play by a margin of double-digits — talk about coming full circle.
SFU came out fast, with the first five points in the first minute. However, Seattle Pacific answered back with some offence of their own, even taking the lead.
Down 16–12, the turning point of the game came with a 14–0 run, started by a layup from Kedar Wright. JJ Pankratz tied the game at 16 with a huge dunk — the first of two dunks for Pankratz.
After this point, SFU never trailed again in the game.
SFU finished the first half up 40–33.
In the second half, freshman Othniel Spence continued a great first half — in which he put up nine points in eight minutes — and put up a second-straight dominant performance after putting up a career-high 29 points in Thursday’s game. In 23 minutes of action, he put up 24 points, went six-for-nine from the field (66.7%), four-for-six from the three-point line (66.7%), and eight-for-nine on free throws (88.9%).
“There’s no other way I’d rather go out. I’m so happy for the guys.”
– Gibran Sewani on his final game
It’s a terrific sign for the freshman who looks to be a big part of the team’s future.
“With a young guy, it’s just confidence,” said head coach Steve Hanson.”You come in not knowing what your role is going to be. [Spence] asked me before he came here, he’s like, ‘Coach, am I going to get a chance to play?’ and I said, ‘You’re going to get a chance to play, but you’ve got to come earn it everyday in practice.”
Pankratz also had a big night, going nine-for-11 (81.8%) from the field, and, from the three-point line, going five-for-six (83.3%). He tied Spence for the team lead in scoring with 24 points.
“[Pankratz] seems to get a lot of confidence from playing offence, and I get on him about his defence. And tonight, he was just outstanding defensively, and then he gets to play those long stretches because of his great defence. You can see what he does on offence,” said Hanson.
While SFU never did trail in the game again, they did look to be in danger of a late game collapse. Seattle Pacific came back from a 12-point deficit to tie the game at 67–67 with 5:41.
In previous games, this looked like the point at which Seattle Pacific might build a small lead that they would carry for the rest of the game, and complete the comeback.
However, after missing a pair of free throws 34 seconds earlier, Tyrell Lewin sunk two free throws and started giving SFU back the momentum.
“They did an excellent job getting to the free throw line all night, and when it got going tough, we finally started attacking the hoop. We did some things to try and get the ball inside, and try to get to the rim, and try to get to the free throw line, and I think that was the difference — we just didn’t settle,” said Hanson.
Wright led the team in rebounds with nine, all of them defensive.
It was a great send off for Sewani and fellow senior Hidde Vos, who were able to bask in the excitement of the crowd for their final game. For two players who have been through three different head coaches in the last three years and a lineup that, along with new coaches, saw a high amount of turnover in that time period, it was an appropriately happy ending.
“It didn’t really hit me until like five minutes left in the game, and I was really starting to feel it. It was a tough game for myself — I picked up four fouls, and couldn’t really do much — but I don’t really care, to be honest, it was just amazing,” said Sewani. “There’s no other way I’d rather go out. I’m so happy for the guys.”
And for a guy who’s been with the team so long, especially having been on a 2014-15 team that fell just short of making the playoffs by placing seventh, it’s promising to see his level of optimism for the team going forward.
“This is the most faith I’ve ever had in the program moving forward, and I’m just so happy that the program is in the right hands,” he said. “I’m jealous I can’t be there next year.”
And he’s got a point, at least from the outside looking in. In Michael Provenzano and Spence, they’ve got some freshman who look like they will be serious talents in the GNAC for three more years. In Wright, Pankratz, and Iziah Sherman-Newsome, the team will have a talented senior class to lead the way.
But for now, it’s time to remember the season that just ended, that ended on such an upbeat note — one that saw the team play some exciting and competitive ball down the stretch. With two conference wins, and four Division II wins, it was a better season than the one before.
It was the perfect ending.