Big Road Wins Earn SPU Men Team of the Week
David Downs (2) scored 32 points last week to help the Falcons reclaim first place with a pair of victories.
David Downs (2) scored 32 points last week to help the Falcons reclaim first place with a pair of victories.

Monday, January 20, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. – Before Wednesday, it had been more than two full years since Western Washington’s men’s basketball team lost at home inside of Sam Carver Gym in Bellingham. In a game touted as Great Northwest Athletic Conference Game of the Week and televised on ROOT Sports, the Seattle Pacific men’s basketball team rose to the occasion with a convincing 76-60 triumph over the Vikings that simultaneously ended the incredible 36-game winning streak and propelled the Falcons into first place in the conference standings.

“Our guys actually had no idea (the streak) even existed until we started talking after the game in the locker room,” SPU head coach Ryan Looney commented on the game. “It wasn’t any different than any other game, and we didn’t want to make it seem bigger than it really was,” Looney said regarding the team’s mindset heading into the matchup.

No one stood out more on Wednesday than SPU’s Patrick Simon, who turned in a game-high 29 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Less than a month earlier, Simon suffered a fractured wrist and was absent from the Falcons’ lineup during early GNAC play. “Right after Christmas we were dealt with a serious injury,” Looney said on the impact of Simon’s setback. “He missed the last game before break and two more right after.”

Simon’s value was missed in SPU’s two games following the break, as the Falcons dropped consecutive road contests against Western Oregon and Saint Martin’s to kick off the new year. Since then, SPU has mounted a four-game winning streak and is playing at full strength and confidence. “It seems that we are playing a lot better, and collectively our group is playing a little more unselfishly,” Looney commented on his team’s performance in the last four games. “I don’t know that we are doing a whole lot differently, but we feel like in the last four games we have played better than we have all season and are playing at the level we anticipated we would.” 

While it appears that Simon’s return has been the Falcons’ key to success, Looney cited several other players who have stepped up recently and embraced their roles more thoroughly. “A lot of our success against Western had to do with the efficiency of Cory Hutsen, who really made them pay in the paint and around the basket,” Looney said regarding the play of the 6’ 8” junior center. “We also had great energy from Brendan Carroll and Mitch Penner, and Riley Stockton is another guy who does a lot of the little things for us.”

Stockton, whose name carries the legacy of one of the best guards in NBA history, stepped up with a 10-point 10-rebound double-double in the Falcons’ victory over Simon Fraser on Saturday, and is living up to his uncle John’s tout as a master facilitator as Riley ranks No. 6 in the GNAC in assists per game with 3.7.

The play of preseason All-American David Downs, who ranks third in the conference in points per game with 20.4, has helped carry SPU all year. According to Looney, it is the maturity and leadership of Downs and his fellow upperclassmen that has SPU right where it wants to be at this stage of the season. “A lot of our success so far has to do with how much we have grown defensively,” Looney said. “We have a lot of older and more mature players who have been in this situation before, and that has been really good for us.” 

SPU hits the road this week for a single game against Montana State Billings on Saturday. While the implications of playing at Alterowitz Gym in Billings appear less significant than last week’s matchup in Bellingham, Looney’s team is well aware that the road environment will be just as challenging. “Our guys understand that it is always difficult going on the road and that Saturday’s game against a good MSU Billings team will be just as difficult as when we play WWU again later this year.”