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Saints Go Marching In As GNAC Championships Favorite
Led by First Team All-GNAC selection Luke Chavez, Saint Martin's is in the GNAC Championships for the fourth consecutive season.
Led by First Team All-GNAC selection Luke Chavez, Saint Martin's is in the GNAC Championships for the fourth consecutive season.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Saint Martin’s is the team to beat, but a combination of tournament newcomers and postseason veterans will make for an exciting GNAC Men’s Basketball Championships, which commences on Thursday at Western Washington University’s Carver Gym.

The Saints, in the tournament for the fourth-straight year, enters having won the program’s first GNAC regular-season championship. Experienced in the postseason. Saint Martin’s advanced to last year’s GNAC Championships final and earned the school’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Seattle Pacific, playing in its eighth tournament in nine years, and defending tournament champion Western Oregon come in as the tournament veterans. Montana State Billings is in the field for the fifth time, but its first since 2017, while surging Northwest Nazarene is making just its second GNAC Championships appearance. The bracket is rounded out by Simon Fraser, which makes its first postseason appearance since joining the GNAC in 2010.

The building process that Saint Martin’s has seen over the last three years is building to a crescendo. The Saints captured their first GNAC regular-season championship with a 17-4 record and 24-4 overall mark. Saint Martin’s has excelled with a team-oriented offensive approach with senior guards Luke Chavez and EJ Boyce both averaging 13.2 points per game and senior transfer Chandler Redix averaging 12 points per game.

The bulk of the Saints’ success, however, has centered around defense. The team ranks second in the GNAC in scoring defense (68.1 points allowed per game), first in three-point defense (.319) and third in field goal defense (.434), which has allowed Saint Martin’s to outscore opponents by an average of 10.5 points per game.

Seattle Pacific, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, enters the championship riding a 10-game win streak. During that stretch, the Falcons have outscored opponents by an average of 14 points per game and outrebounded foes by 13 per game. Overall, the Falcons lead the GNAC in rebounding (38.4 per game) and rebounding defense (29.8 per game) and rank second in field goal percentage (.486).

The Falcons spread the offensive wealth well with four players averaging over 10 points per game. Junior guard Gavin Long is averaging 13.4 points per game. Senior guard Nikhil Lizotte is averaging 12.9 points per game while ranking fourth in the GNAC with a .878 free throw percentage. Senior forward Coleman Wooten is scoring 12.2 points per game while ranking second in the GNAC with 7.8 rebounds per contest.

The No. 3 seed in the tournament, Northwest Nazarene is making its first GNAC Championships appearance since the inaugural edition in 2011. The Nighthawks are the top offensive team in the conference, averaging 85 points per game while making 50.2 percent of their shots from the field. The team is also defensively stout, leading the conference in field goal defense (.418) and ranking second in both rebounding (37.7 per game) and blocked shots (4.1 per game).

Northwest Nazarene boasts the top two scorers in the conference. Junior Adonis Arms is averaging 20.9 points per game, making 56 percent of his shots from the field, while senior Obi Megwa is averaging 19.2 points per game. Junior Jayden Bezzant has been a key spark plug off the bench, averaging 12.8 points per game while making 54.5 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range.

The defending tournament champions, No. 4 seed Western Oregon has rebounded well after the loss of a number of key contributors off the 2017-18 squad. The Wolves secured their playoff spot by winning three of their final four games, including a critical home victory over Northwest Nazarene. Another defensive-minded program, Western Oregon leads the league in scoring defense (65.7 points allowed per game), steals (8 per game) and turnover margin (+5.58) while also topping the GNAC in scoring margin (+12.1).

The Wolves have also spread out the offense with four starters averaging over 10 points per game.  Junior forward Riley Hawken averages 12.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and also leads the GNAC with two steals per game. Junior guard Dalven Brushier is averaging 11.3 points per contest while senior forward Kaleb Warner averages 11 points per game.

Montana State Billings, the No. 5 seed, returns to the GNAC Championships for the first time since 2017 under first-year head coach Mick Durham. The Yellowjackets secured their berth with a sweep of the Alaska road trip in the final weekend of the season, including a 67-56 win at Alaska Anchorage that saw MSUB outscore their hosts 43-27 in the second half.  A solid outside-shooting program, MSUB is fourth in the GNAC in scoring at 79.5 points per game and ranks third with a .377 three-point percentage.

The Yellowjackets are led by dynamic freshman forward Brendan Howard, who ranks fifth in the GNAC with 15.6 points per game in 28 games while playing primarily in a sixth-man role. Junior guard Tyler Green is sixth in the GNAC at 15.5 points per game and is among the national leaders in three-point shooting. He leads the league with 3.3 three-pointers made per game with a .435 three-point percentage. Junior forward Melvin Newbern, Jr., is the third in GNAC in rebounding with 7.6 boards per game.

After finishing no better than seventh place in the program’s first eight years in the conference, Simon Fraser used a brilliant second-half run to earn its first trip to the GNAC Championships. The No. 6 seed, the Clan went 7-3 in the final 10 games of the regular season, which included a road win over Saint Martin’s and a home defeat of Northwest Nazarene. Another solid outside shooting team, Simon Fraser leads the GNAC with a .384 three-point percentage while averaging 78.6 points per game.

Sophomore center Julian Roche has led the Clan throughout the season, entering the tournament averaging 13.3 points per game. He is ranked fifth in the league with 6.6 rebounds per game. Junior guard Othniel Spence leads the team and is ninth in the GNAC with 13.7 points per game while junior guard Michael Provenzano leads the league with 4.9 assists per contest.

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