Four Teams Play For Two Final GNAC Championships Berths
Tru Allen scored 14 points and had the winning free throws in Saturday's 65-60 Northwest Nazarene win over Simon Fraser. The win secures the Nighthawks' spot in the GNAC Championships.
Tru Allen scored 14 points and had the winning free throws in Saturday's 65-60 Northwest Nazarene win over Simon Fraser. The win secures the Nighthawks' spot in the GNAC Championships.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

PORTLAND, Ore. – Four teams have secured berths to next week’s GNAC Men’s Basketball Championships but the final week of the regular season leaves plenty to play for.

Seattle Pacific and Northwest Nazarene were the latest teams to secure berths with both teams locking in their spots on Saturday. The Falcons secured their spot with a huge road win, taking out Montana State Billings 72-70.

The contest provided its fair share of drama with 10 ties and 17 lead changes over the 40 minutes. Neither team led by more than five points. The Falcons led by four with 1:55 left before the Yellowjackets battled back to tie it at 70-70 on a pair of Bilal Shabazz free throws. Maui Sze made the most of SPU’s final possession, hitting a lay-in with four seconds left for the game-winner.

Junior forward Shaw Anderson led a Falcons’ team that shot 56% from the field with 23 points on 9 of 13 from the field.

Northwest Nazarene secured its GNAC Championships berth in its home finale, taking a 65-60 victory over Simon Fraser on Saturday. The Nighthawks overcame a slow start to the game to lead most of the way, but the Red Leafs never went away. After building as much as a seven-point advantage with seven minutes left, NNU saw SFU come within 52-51 on a Jahmal Wright three-point play.

The Nighthawks closed the door with a 10-5 run over the final four minutes with Tru Allen securing the victory with two free throws with 26 seconds left. Allen finished with 14 points while sophomore guard Ryzin Bergersen led the way with 16 points.

While four teams remain mathematically in the conversation for the final two GNAC Championships berths, Western Oregon and Central Washington are in the driver’s seat to claim them.

Western Oregon enters the final week in fifth place at 8-8 after earning a split on the Alaska road trip, collecting a 74-69 overtime win at Alaska Anchorage. Central Washington sits in sixth place at 7-9 thanks to a 77-75 win at Simon Fraser on Thursday and an 86-81 overtime win at Western Washington on Saturday. The key wins at a critical time earned the Wildcats selection as the GNAC Team of the Week.

Both teams will be tested in the final week. Central Washington will play at Saint Martin’s on Thursday before squaring off against the Wolves on Saturday. Western Oregon will host Northwest Nazarene on Thursday.

Thanks to its nine-game win streak and Montana State Billings’ loss on Saturday, Saint Martin’s is in line to claim its second straight regular-season championship. The Saints swept the Alaska road trip for just the second time in program history, scoring an 82-63 win at Alaska Anchorage on Thursday and an 83-61 rout of Alaska on Saturday.

The Saints need just one win over their final two games to claim a share of the regular-season title and would win it outright with wins over Central Washington on Thursday and Northwest Nazarene on Saturday.

Saint Martin’s last loss came to Montana State Billings on Jan. 12, 72-61. Since then, the Saints have been dominant, outscoring opponents by an average of 15 points per game. Only three of the nine games have seen a margin of victory of 10 points or less. Saint Martin’s is shooting 49.6% from the floor in those nine games and has forced 16 turnovers per contest.

Saints junior center Shakeem Alcindor averaged 21 points and 5.5 rebounds per game over the two games to earn selection as the GNAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Week. Alcindor led all scorers with 25 points at Alaska Anchorage on Thursday and then scored 17 points in just 14 minutes at Alaska Anchorage on Saturday.

Montana State Billings is hoping for a Saint Martin’s loss and a sweep of the Alaska schools at home this week to keep its regular-season title hopes alive. Those hopes took a hit with two losses last week, dropping an 84-62 head-to-head decision to Saint Martin’s on Thursday and the 72-70 loss at Seattle Pacific on Saturday. The Yellowjackets host Alaska on Thursday and Alaska Anchorage on Saturday.

THE WEEK AHEAD: Playoff seeding will be on the line Thursday as Northwest Nazarene plays at Western Oregon. The regular-season championship will be in the balance with Saint Martin’s hosting Central Washington and Montana State Billings hosting Alaska. Seattle Pacific opens the final weekend by hosting Alaska Anchorage.

On Saturday, Central Washington plays at Western Oregon in a game that could help decide the final spot in the GNAC Championships. Saint Martin’s hosts Northwest Nazarene while Montana State Billings hosts Alaska Anchorage and Seattle Pacific hosts Alaska. Western Washington hosts Simon Fraser in the final game of the regular season on Saturday night.

REGIONAL RANKINGS: The first set of numeric NCAA Division II West Region Rankings find three GNAC teams among those under consideration for the Division II Championships. Saint Martin’s is the highest ranked conference team at No. 3. Montana State Billings is No. 5 while Seattle Pacific is No. 9. The top-eight ranked teams at the end of the season will be selected for the Division II West Regional. The field will be announced on Sunday, Mar. 5. Point Loma is ranked No. 1, followed by Cal State Bernardino at No. 2.

CENTRAL WASHINGTON IS THE TEAM OF THE WEEK: Central Washington took a pair of critical home wins last week to put itself in contention for a postseason spot berth and earned GNAC Team of the Week honors in the process.

The Wildcats opened the week with a 77-75 win over Simon Fraser on Thursday. Central Washington took the early advantage, leading 48-31 at halftime before holding off the Red Leafs’ push down the stretch to take the victory.

Junior Camron McNeil led a quartet of Wildcats scoring in double digits with 19 points on 8 of 19 from the field, 1 of 4 from three-point range and 2 of 2 from the free-throw line. McNeil also finished the game with two rebounds and two assists.

Along with McNeil, sophomore forward Mitch Brizee, senior guard Isaiah Banks and senior forward Matt Poquette all scored in double digits. Brizee knocked down 18 points to go with five rebounds while shooting a perfect 8 for 8 from the field and going 2 for 3 from the free-throw line.

On Saturday, Central Washington took an 86-71 overtime win over in-state rival Western Washington to sweep the season series heading into the final week of the regular season. The Wildcats took a lead into halftime for the second game in a row after holding the Vikings to just 11.1% from long range in the first half.

After WWU pushed back in the second frame to force overtime, it was the Wildcats who shined in bonus basketball with 12 points on 4 of 5 from the field, 1 of 1 from three-point range and 3 of 3 from the free-throw line. Poquette accounted for five of those points in overtime and finished the game with 23 points, eight rebounds and a block.

McNeil led the Wildcats for the second game in a row, knocking down 27 points to go with six rebounds, three assists and two steals while shooting 61.1% from the field, 40% from long range and a perfect 3 for 3 from the free-throw line. For the week, McNeil averaged 23 points and four rebounds per game.

Head coach Brandon Rinta has been pleased with the way his team has developed over the season and pointed to the results last week as evidence of that growth.

“This team has come a long way from the start of the season,” Rinta said. “They have stuck together all year and continue to improve. To close our last two home games with two big wins that came down to the wire is a reflection of that.”