There’s not a better advertisement for the men’s basketball team than this game.
In front of a standing-room-only crowd at the Whiteout game — the marketing department brought their A-game — the men’s basketball team followed one of their best efforts on Thursday (albeit ending in a heartbreaking loss), with their best game of the season.
And this time, they came out with the win.
“It’s weird how karma works out,” said head coach Steve Hanson. “You know, you’re in a similar situation late, [and] I was just like, this time we’re up five or six [. . .] let’s see if we can finish this off for once.”
“It’s about time,” said guard Kedar Wright, whose double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds helped lead SFU to their first conference victory. SFU snapped a 19-game losing streak, as well as a 20-game conference game losing streak, a Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) record. It was also their first home conference win in almost two years, having last won against a GNAC opponent on February 12, 2015.
The thing is, it wasn’t against an easy opponent, either. The Western Oregon Wolves are third in the conference, and last year, made the Division II Final Four.
SFU started the game out with some good energy, scoring five straight points to start off the game, and holding Western Oregon off the board for nearly four minutes with some solid defensive rebounding.
Gibran Sewani, who received his fifth consecutive start, was particularly noticeable, putting up some rebounds and points.
“This is Gibran’s senior year, I know how important it is for him to get minutes and some key playing time. I find he just starts off the game really well for us,” said Hanson. “Gibran gives us big plays at times and he wins the jump ball every game.”
The big play this game? A crowd-pleasing dunk that set the tone for the rest of the game for the Clan’s fourth and fifth points.
By the five-minute mark, SFU had built up a 10–2 lead. However, a series of poor shot choices, and an inability to get to the scoring areas, led to long periods of no scoring for SFU and a Western Oregon comeback. However, the longest stretch without scoring, 3:26, was suffered by both teams.
By the half, the Wolves were up 32–27.
The story of the game — and the second-half comeback — was rebounding.
“Rebounding’s all effort,” said Hanson after the win. It’s something he’s said before, usually as a negative, but it was anything but Thursday night.
SFU had more offensive rebounds than they did defensive, with 21 to 18. From their own side of the court, SFU was adept at stopping second-chance points — surrendering only six — while on the offensive, the Clan managed 19 second-chance points.
“I am just real[ly] happy for our guys, I mean, we’ve said it all season: they’ve been grinding hard even after tough losses.”
– Steve Hanson, head coach
And Wright wasn’t the only player with a double-double. Iziah Sherman-Newsome was a master of collecting rebounds and making the other team pay for it. With 11 rebounds — seven of them offensive — Sherman-Newsome put up 17 points.
SFU tied the game up at 46–46 pretty much at the halfway point of the second half. Western Oregon scored six straight points in response.
But it was clear that SFU was getting in the Wolves’ heads. Their star forward, Tanner Omlid, who leads the conference in steals and is 14th in GNAC scoring, was forced out of the game after taking his fifth foul with nine minutes to go.
SFU faced a similar dilemma with Michael Provenzano, who had taken four fouls, and whose scoring touch would be needed down the stretch. He subbed out about 30 seconds after Omlid left the game, and sat on the bench for 5:03 before coming back on for the rest of the game.
“We were kind of thinking the same thing with Mike; do we leave him in? But we just made a sound decision, get Mike out,” explained Hanson.
Hidde Vos claimed the lead for SFU with a three to put them up by one. While Western Oregon did tie it up immediately after, SFU didn’t trail thereafter.
SFU won with a shortened bench. Vinnie Safin, Bowen Bakken, Graham Miller, Aleks Vranjes, and Bongani Moyo did not receive any minutes. Othniel Spence played only eight minutes — none in the second half — while Andrew Williamson played only three.
“We only played nine guys tonight, so the crowd really helped guys that had a lot of minutes get through things,” said Hanson. “I am just real[ly] happy for our guys, I mean, we’ve said it all season: they’ve been grinding hard even after tough losses.”
While the win was great — and it was great — one of the best things to come out of the weekend was a sense of progress. This didn’t feel like a one-off fluke win. Those were two close games, games that arguably should have been wins, and they weren’t just against bad teams who were playing badly.
That’s not to say the rest of the schedule is going to be filled with wins. But it’s good knowing that, in a season where wins aren’t plentiful, they do seem to be trending upwards.
“There’s certainly been a progression. We’re a totally different team from the beginning of the season. There’s certainly been growth. We’re definitely building some cohesion,” said Wright. “[We’re] just sharing the ball more.”
“I think guys [are] just sticking to what the coach is saying, and the coaches have been doing an awesome job. For us to be playing the best basketball we’ve played all year, through all the trials and tribulations, says a lot about the coaching,” said Sherman-Newsome.
Next Game: SFU will try and keep the momentum going with a game against Northwest Nazarene on Thursday.
Northwest Nazarene are a fairly low-scoring team, ranking third-last in scoring offence, and averaging 75.2 points per game. In the matchup at home earlier this season, SFU lost by only six points by score of 80–74, when a valiant second-half comeback bid fell just short.
Tip-off is at 6 p.m. Thursday.