LACEY — Seattle Pacific needed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer last year to defeat Western Washington and win the Great Northwest Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament.
No last-second shots were needed to take this season’s title — a big second half from David Downs saw to that — but that doesn’t mean the closing seconds didn’t feature plenty of tension.
Downs scored a game-high 26 points to lift the Falcons to their second consecutive tournament crown with a thrilling 65-62 victory over the Vikings on Saturday in Marcus Pavilion at Saint Martin’s University.
With the win, the top-seeded Falcons (26-5) secure the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Division II tournament. It marks the 10th consecutive season Seattle Pacific, which won the GNAC’s regular-season title and 15 out of its past 16 games, has advanced to the national tournament.
Despite the loss, the Vikings (20-8) should receive an at-large bid but will have to wait until Div. II tournament selection announcement Sunday to find out its fate.
Downs, the GNAC Player of the Year, was named the tournament MVP after his stellar second-half performance against Western Washington.
But as great as Downs played in the second half — the senior scored 19 of his points after halftime — Western Washington still had one final possession to send the game into overtime.
The Falcons pushed their lead to 65-62 on a pair of free throws from Matt Borton, leaving the Vikings just 3.7 seconds on the clock.
“To be honest,” said Downs, who made 7 of 9 shots in the second half, “I was thinking about last year at the end.”
The Falcons beat WWU, 72-70, in last year’s tournament final on a last-second, 26-foot 3-pointer by Jobi Wall.
With enough time to get a shot off, the Vikings could have returned the favor, but they failed to get off a shot after Anye Turner’s inbounds pass sailed high and into the hands of Borton.
“I’ve been here for four years. I feel ancient,” Downs said. “We have a long history with Western. Personally, this (win) was huge.”
Seattle Pacific also got 11 points from Patrick Simon, while five players had five or more rebounds, helping the Falcons hold a slim 39-37 rebounding advantage.
“These guys are completely selfless,” Downs said about his teammates. “They did whatever it took to win this game. If these guys don’t do this, I don’t make these shots.”
Western Washington appeared to grab the momentum after Robert Harris connected with Austin Bragg on a picturesque alley-oop, which pushed the Vikings’ lead to 40-32 with 15 minutes to play.
Following the play, however, the Falcons emerged from a timeout undaunted and proceeded to go on a game-deciding 16-3 run – highlighted by back-to-back 3s from Downs, the second of which gave Seattle Pacific its first lead at 46-43 since the beginning of the game.
“I don’t remember what I told them during that timeout,” Seattle Pacific coach Ryan Looney said. “All our timeouts were about being tough and doing all those the little things you do in practice.”
The lead grew to 57-48 with 61/2 minutes to play before the Vikings mounted a comeback, cutting their deficit to 63-62 on a Bragg putback with 1:12 remaining.
Richard Woodworth had a chance to grab the lead for WWU, but his layup with 11 seconds to go bounced off the back of the rim, forcing the Vikings to put Borton on the free throw line, where he hit both shots.
Western Washington led, 29-23, at halftime, getting a dozen points from Jeffrey Parker and eight from Bragg.
Bragg finished with a team-high 20 points, while Parker added 14, and Harris chipped in 10.
Western Washington 78, Simon Fraser 74: The second-seeded Vikings overcame a 16-point deficit, getting 21 points from Katie Colard and 17 from Jenni White, to win their second consecutive GNAC women’s basketball tournament title with a victory over the fourth-seeded Clan at Saint Martin’s University.
Simon Fraser (19-9) led 37-21 late in the first half and 42-30 at halftime. Western Washington (19-9) used a 9-0 run to claim its first lead of the game at 61-60 on a Tia Briggs free throw with under 6 minutes to play.
Eight lead changes followed before the Vikings went on a 9-0 run, capped by a Colard field goal, to put the game away.
Taylor Peacock added 15 points for WWU, while Erin Chambers scored a game-high 28 points for Simon Fraser.
The Vikings have reached the title game every year since the tournament began.