Young but improving, Saint Martin’s men’s basketball team is ready to begin GNAC play

What’s better than riding a two-game win streak entering the start of Great Northwest Athletic Conference play?

Extending that streak.

That’s what the Saint Martin’s men’s basketball team (2-5) will try to do when it hosts Alaska Anchorage (2-4) on Thursday and Alaska Fairbanks (2-3) on Saturday at Marcus Pavilion. Both games tip off at 7 p.m.

The SMU women (2-4) begin GNAC play on the road, playing at Central Washington on Thursday and at Northwest Nazarene on Saturday.

After an 0-5 start with a starting lineup featuring as many as three freshmen, the Saints’ two-game streak can be attributed to better on-court chemistry, second-year coach Michael Ostlund said.

“I feel like it’s getting better every game,” he said.

Saturday’s 73-72 road win at previously unbeaten Concordia (Portland), behind freshman Brent Counts’ 12 points, avenged an 85-68 loss to the Cavaliers on Nov. 18 in Lacey.

Missing from the second game, however, was senior point guard Riley Carel, who sprained an ankle at Friday’s practice. Ostlund listed him as doubtful for Thursday and questionable for Saturday. Carel also missed the Saints’ first matchup against Concordia because of a groin injury.

The Saints’ injuries, which began with incoming freshman Ryan Hintze (knee) and junior forward Lucas Shannon (concussions), led Ostlund to give more playing time to the fresh-faced freshmen.

“We became really young overnight,” Ostlund said. “We had to roll with it. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the progress of how well the freshmen have played.”

This week, the Saints first welcome an Alaska Anchorage team that features the GNAC preseason player of the year, senior Travis Thompson (14.5 ppg). Junior Brian McGill leads the Seawolves in scoring (17.5 ppg).

“The guys are really excited to start conference play,” Ostlund said. “It’s another step on the season — the stakes are a little higher.”