SFU falls just short of first conference win in last-second heartbreaker

Michael Provenzano (#20) had 21 points and four assists while playing a game high 37 minutes.

While every loss must sting, Thursday night’s must have been especially painful.

Having battled back from a seven point halftime deficit, SFU were up 73–70 with 7.8 seconds left, seemingly seconds away from their first conference win. Izaiah Sherman-Newsome just needed to move the ball from the baseline and out of harm’s way.

He did so with a pass to Kedar Wright, but a foul was called on the Concordia Cavaliers, and Sherman-Newsome had to repeat the process with just .9 seconds killed off the clock. Again, he passed it to Wright, who seemed to have an opening to clear it out of SFU’s zone.

However, this is where it went wrong. In a rather questionable call, Wright was called out of bounds as he caught the ball. (While the replay’s angle is far from conclusive, he definitely doesn’t look out of bounds).

Well, that was a turnover. Concordia got the ball, and guard Latrell Wilson sunk a three with 1.8 seconds left. Tie game.

But it didn’t end there. Hidde Vos was assessed an iffy foul, and the Concordia shooter was awarded a free throw. Wilson made the shot. 74–73.

“Hidde, he doesn’t want to move his feet there, gets as tight into a guy as he can, a guy who takes out his legs and is known for flopping a bit,” said head coach Steve Hanson. “You’ve got to give [Wilson] credit. He hit a tough shot and he hit the free throw.”

The building that was filled the sound of an excited crowd — probably the loudest all year — just seconds ago fell silent.

JJ Pankratz made one last attempt to save the game with a long shot from half court, but to no avail.

“It’s just tough; I feel for our guys,” said Hanson. “We played hungry tonight, we just didn’t play that last seven seconds perfect[ly].”

Nearly a year to the day since their last conference win (on February 11, 2016), against the same team, and with 18 consecutive losses beforehand both times, the circumstances seemed eerily similar to their first conference win. Instead, the losing streak now extends to 19, one more than last year’s streak.

It’s a tough result for a game that SFU played so well in, and really, probably should have won. But even if you believe the calls that cost SFU the game were wrong, SFU did leave a few points on the table.

The Clan opened the game by allowing eight consecutive points, and missing three attempts from the field. Wright broke the drought with a three-pointer just after the two-minute mark.

However, after dropping the initial eight points, SFU did keep the game fairly tight, trailing at most by 12 points, and ending the half down by only seven.

“The way we started was terrible,” explained Hanson. “[But] guys did some good things, we actually turned them over a lot after they hit their first five or six. We kind of dug in defensively. We forced 12 turnovers in the first half and that was good — we played tough.“

While in the first half the Clan had a hard time finding good spots to shoot — going 10-for-27 from the field (37.0%) — the second half turned that around.

Michael Provenzano and Wright led the comeback attempt, each draining shots, with Provenzano draining 13 points and Wright putting up 15 in the second half.

“When you get late in the game, both coaches are making adjustments, we’re doing different things defensively; they’re doing different things. It really comes down to players making shots,” said Hanson. “Kedar and Mike hit some shots.”

“We played hungry tonight, we just didn’t play that last seven seconds perfect.”

SFU took the lead when down by five points with 10 minutes left; they scored eight straight points. Wright started the sequence by sinking two free throws, then Tyrell Lewin and Provenzano scored layups, before Wright put in a final jumper.

Beside the last-second heartbreaker, SFU never trailed from this point on, and led by as much as five.

With two minutes remaining, Concordia — with a dunk and three consecutive free throws — tied up the game at 68–68.

Wright scored a three to regain the lead. Concordia answered back with a layup, and were down by one.

With 23 seconds left, Provenzano put up two more points, and SFU had a three-point lead. When Concordia missed a three-point attempt and Wright collected the defensive rebound, the game should’ve been over.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be.

Wright and Provenzano shared the points lead with 21, while Sherman-Newsome put up 15 and led the team in steals with four. Lewin led the team in rebounds with six — five of them defensive. While not registering a point, Gibran Sewani, who started for the fourth consecutive game, put up three blocks.

Provenzano played 37 minutes during the game, and had played a 40 minute game on the last road trip.

“It’s something we talk about as a staff a lot. We wanted to maybe get him out for one or two minutes, but we’re just not that trusting of the other young guys on the bench,” said Hanson. “He looked tired at times, but he was like, ‘Coach, I’m okay,’ and I kind of trust him. Right after I said that, he scored two quick hoops.

“In a perfect situation, he’s probably playing 33, 34 minutes a night, but that’s not where it’s at. His conditioning is outstanding; there’s not a better conditioned guy in our league.”

Other players spent much of their time on the bench. Andrew Williamson — who averages 15.3 minutes per game — and Othniel Spence — who averages 14 minutes per game — got two and five minutes of court time respectively. Along with Graham Miller, neither player got on the court in the second half. Bongani Moyo, Bowen Bakken, and Vinnie Safin did not receive any minutes.

Tonight: SFU will face off in a rematch against the Western Oregon Wolves, who made it to the NCAA Division II Final Four last year.

In their last matchup on the road, SFU came out to an early lead, going on an 11–2 run to take a 19–11 lead. However, the Wolves answered back with 21 straight points of their own, and were up by nine at the end of the half. SFU never recovered and fell 80–65.

Western Oregon currently sits at third in the conference with a 10–5 conference record. They are a strong defensive team, allowing the second-last amount of points-per-game with 72.1.

“We’ve just got to keep focusing on ourselves, there’s nothing that better teams can do that dictate what we need to do,” said Hanson after Thursday’s game. “We’ve got to have a good practice tomorrow.”

Tip-off is at 7 p.m. in the West Gym.