By: Brandon Braich
SFU’s men’s basketball team, fresh off an upset win over the #13 ranked Saint Martin’s University Saints on February 2, took on the #24 ranked Northwest Nazarene University Nighthawks on Thursday, February 7 at the West Gym on Burnaby Mountain.
After a thrilling final minute, SFU walked away with a 78–77 victory after Jayden Bezzant’s three point attempt at the buzzer fell short for the visiting side. The win improved SFU to 11–10 overall and 5–8 in GNAC play. Jasdeep Singh led the way offensively, finishing the night with 17 points on 6–9 shooting for SFU.
Early in the first, it looked similar to these two teams’ previous match, a 88–72 victory for the Nighthawks. Despite a few early buckets by Singh, Northwest Nazarene jumped ahead to a 19–12 start, controlling both ends of the floor. After a loose ball ended with a jump-ball call, a slight skirmish between SFU’s Michael Provenzano and the Nighthawks’ Adonis Arms broke out, resulting in a technical foul on Arms, and then another technical to the Nighthawks head coach, Paul Rush.
The altercation quickly increased the intensity of play, leading to a spirited first half. After sinking the technical free throws, Provenzano broke the trap and found Julian Roche under the basket for a layup. This spurred a 15–0 run that turned an early deficit into a 27–19 lead for the Clan. Roche was a force on the defensive end, finishing with two blocks and altering several shots at the rim.
“I think we took some bad shots, when we fell down,” SFU head coach Steve Hanson said. “But we just settled down, and played tough.”
The Nighthawks began to tighten their defense as the half drew to a close, and pulled within four, but a three by Drew Bryson pushed the lead back up to 42–35 going into the break.
The Clan came out energized, quickly building their lead in the second half. Othniel Spence (9 points) got it started with a layup to extend the Clan lead. Singh followed with a putback and then a shot from long range to push the lead to 49–40.
SFU’s defense was locked in, led by great perimeter defense by Michael Hannon. Hannon was all over the court, not only picking up two steals, but finishing with a game-high eight rebounds.
The final half was a physical affair, Wilfried Balata was relentless attacking the rum. Although he struggled to finish, Balata was able to get to the line 13 times, making 10 of them.
The teams went back and forth, with the Nighthawks pushing the pace in order to prevent SFU from setting up their defense, while playing a high pressure defense themselves.
“I think we just did such a good job in the half court,” Hanson said. “They just wanted to speed things up. They were pressing us, getting us out of our rhythm offensively.
“We did a poor job getting back for about a four minute stretch there, and they capitalized.”
But with 7:20 left, a pull up two by Provenzano gave the Clan firm control with a 67–55 lead.
However, with five minutes to go, Arms began to put his mark on the game. He hit multiple threes to close the gap to four, 73–69. After an offensive foul on SFU, Arms came back down and scored again, pulling the game within two.
With momentum swinging against them, Balata backed down his man and hit a tough shot at the rim plus the foul. With under two minutes to go, Arms drove to the rim and hit a layup. Then the Nighthawks forced a critical turnover with their full court press, leading to free throws.
After a missed shot by Spence, Arms scored again making it a 76–75 game going into the final minute. Needing a basket desperately, SFU put the ball back in the hands of Balata, who backed down his man again and forced another foul. After hitting the first free throw, Balata missed the second keeping the lead to just two.
With the ball back in the hands of Arms, he drove once against to the rim. This time, SFU was ready, with Singh rotating over to contest at the rim leading to a wild miss by Arms. Balata came down with the rebound and was immediately fouled.
Balata once again hit one of two, leaving the door open for the Nighthawks. But after another stop, the Clan had a final chance to ice it at the line, but Muir-Keng missed both free throws giving the Nighthawks one final chance. Despite his big night, the ball never saw Arms’ hands on the final possession, resulting in a missed three by Bezzant, giving SFU the thrilling victory.
Hanson was pleased with his team’s performance, especially with their play on the glass.
“They’re a tremendous rebounding team,” Hanson said. “I think tonight, we were plus one or plus two on the boards and that was huge for us.”
SFU will look to continue their run against Central Washington University (9–12). The last time these two teams met, Central Washington walked away with a 85–84 victory in overtime. The game will start at 7 p.m on February 9 in the West Gym.