Saints, Seawolves Vying For Title Over Final Weekend
Alex Schumacher was the top scorer for Saint Martin's in both wins last week.
Alex Schumacher was the top scorer for Saint Martin's in both wins last week.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore. – The only thing certain about the GNAC Championships picture entering the final weekend of the regular season is where the games will be played.

This year’s tournament will start with first-round games on Wednesday at Marcus Pavilion in Lacey, Washington and Royal Brougham Pavilion in Seattle. But where teams will be seeded in the conference’s points rating system rides a lot on this week’s games.

Riding a three-game win streak, Saint Martin’s sits at the top of the latest edition of the rankings, released on Feb. 19. The Saints picked up a pair of key home victories last week against top-tier teams, scoring a 78-75 win over Northwest Nazarene on Thursday and a 70-66 win over Central Washington on Saturday.

The Saints never trailed against NNU, opening the game on an 8-0 run over the first two minutes before jumping out to a 43-28 halftime lead. They shot 50.9 percent from the field for the game, led by a 22-point performance by sophomore guard Alex Schumacher that was two free throws away from a perfect shooting night, making 6 of 6 from the field, 2 of 2 from three-point range and 8 of 10 from the stripe.

Schumacher also led the way for SMU on Saturday night against Central Washington with 20 points to go with eight rebounds. But unlike the game against NNU, the Saints had to work a little harder for the win. It was the Wildcats with a 6-0 run to open the game before SMU went on a 12-6 run over the middle seven minutes of the first half to take the 20-12 lead.

Saint Martin’s led 37-33 at halftime and was up 56-45 with 10:48 left before holding off a Wildcats rally over the final 10 minutes to preserve the victory.

The wins helped Saint Martin’s jump three spots in this week’s NCAA West Region Rankings to No. 5. Central Washington sits at No. 6 while Seattle Pacific is at No. 7.

For the Saints to claim the regular-season title, they will have to keep pace on their two-game road trip to Alaska. On Thursday, SMU plays an Alaska team that is 4-1 at home this season. On Thursday, the Saints play an Alaska Anchorage team that is on its heels in the PRS rankings.

The Seawolves have had a spectacular February, going 5-2 on the month. They played just once last week against their in-state rivals, cruising to a 95-72 victory. Alaska Anchorage posted one of its best offensive performances of the season, shooting 56.9 percent from the field and 61.3 percent from three-point range behind a 19-point game off the bench from junior guard AJ Garrity.

Alaska Anchorage is 9-0 in the Alaska Airlines Center this season. The Seawolves won the first meeting of the year against Saint Martin’s, 76-67, in Lacey on Dec. 2.

There will be significant jockeying for the next four spots with the teams separated by two-tenths of a point in the Feb. 19 standings. Northwest Nazarene sat in third Central Washington was fourth while Montana State Billings and Western Washington were tied for fifth.

After splitting its games last week, which included a 78-75 road loss at Saint Martin’s on Thursday, Northwest Nazarene positioned itself to finish strong with an 85-64 home win over Simon Fraser on Tuesday. The Nighthawks shot 53.2 percent from the field and saw five players score in double figures, led by 20 points from sophomore forward Gabriel Murphy.

The Nighthawks will host Seattle Pacific on Thursday and Montana State Billings on Saturday.

Central Washington will host the Yellowjackets on Thursday and the Falcons on Saturday. Prior to their loss to Saint Martin’s last week, the Wildcats had won three of their last four games. That included an exciting 81-80 overtime win over Alaska Anchorage on Feb. 12 that was won on senior guard Xavier Smith’s jumper with three seconds left. Smith led all scorers with 26 points, which helped him earn the GNAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Week award.

Both Montana State Billings and Western Washington will need wins to climb into the top six. The Yellowjackets have lost their last two games, taking an 83-80 overtime loss to Western Washington on Thursday thanks to an in incredible half-court buzzer-beater by sophomore guard D’Angelo Minnis that ended up as the top play on that evening’s edition of ESPN SportsCenter. The Yellowjackets then took a 75-64 loss to Simon Fraser on Saturday.

The Vikings play just once this week, traveling to Simon Fraser on Saturday. In addition to the win at MSUB, WWU won a 79-78 game at Seattle Pacific on Saturday. The week started with a loss for the Vikings, however, taking an 89-65 defeat at Western Oregon on Monday.

All 10 teams will make the GNAC Championships in a change made due to postponements and cancellations due to COVID-19. The No. 7 through No. 10 seeds will play in first-round games on Wednesday in both Lacey and Seattle with the quarterfinals commencing on Wednesday. Matchups, game times and sites will be announced following the conclusion of regular season play.

Xavier Smith, Central Washington
G • 6-4 • Sr., Seattle, Wash.

Smith averaged 20.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game to lead the Wildcats to a 2-1 week. Smith opened with a 19-point, six-rebound performance in Tuesday’s 97-86 loss to Western Washington. He bounded back to finish with 17 points, five rebounds and two steals in Thursday’s 76-73 win over Alaska. Smith saved his best for last, finishing with 26 points and eight rebounds in Saturday’s 81-80 overtime victory over Alaska Anchorage. In the game, Smith made the three-pointer that forced overtime and then hit the Wildcats’ final two baskets in overtime to seal the win.

Also Nominated: Abdullahi Mohamed (Alaska), Oggie Pantovic (Alaska Anchorage), Damen Thacker (Montana State Billings), Tru Allen (Northwest Nazarene), Kyle Greeley (Saint Martin’s), Julian Roche (Simon Fraser), Cameron Cranston (Western Oregon), Jalen Green (Western Washington).

GNAC CHAMPIONSHIPS: In an effort to lessen the effects of postponements and cancellations of games this season due to COVID-19, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference has announced changes to the field sizes and qualifying criteria for its 2022 men’s and women’s basketball championships.

The conference’s Management Council and CEO Board unanimously voted to expand this year’s tournament to all 10 men’s and women’s programs. The GNAC Championships will run from March 2 to 5.

To accommodate full fields in both genders, the first two rounds of games will be split between Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington, and Seattle Pacific University. In total, six games – two play-in contests and four quarterfinals matchups – will be contested at SPU’s Royal Brougham Pavilion. The other 12 games, including the semifinals and championship games in both genders, will be played at Marcus Pavilion on the campus of Saint Martin’s, which was awarded tournament-hosting rights two years ago.

For each gender, the No. 7 through No. 10 seeds will compete in play-in games on Wednesday, March 2. The winners will advance to an eight-team bracket, which will begin play on Thursday, March 3.

With the prospect of conference teams playing unbalanced schedules, tournament seeding in 2022 will be based on a points rating system rather than win/loss percentage.

The points rating system is an end-of-season calculation that attaches numeric values to each result based on whether the game was at home or on the road and where each opponent’s final conference winning percentage fell (i.e., .750 and above, .500 to .749, .250 to .499 and .249 and below). The better an opponent’s final winning percentage, the greater the point values for a win or a loss. It is similar to one of the key metrics used by Division II in ranking teams under consideration for NCAA postseason at-large berths in multiple sports, including men’s and women’s basketball.

Championship brackets are expected to be announced on Saturday, February 26, following the conclusion of the final games of the regular season. Ticket information for both venues will be released at a later date.

GNAC.TV: It is easy and free to access live streams and live stats for all 10 GNAC institutions. Visit on your computer or device to access all that the conference’s digital network has to offer.