SFU men’s basketball enjoy best season in school’s NCAA history

Despite a heartbreaking ending, 2018–19 was a big step in the right direction

The Clan will return most of their core in 2019/2020. (Photo courtesy of SFU Athletics)

March 2, 2019. After playing their last game of the season at home, a 68–56 loss to Western Oregon University, the SFU men’s basketball team’s fate was no longer in their hands. To maintain the sixth seed in the conference and make the GNAC Championships for the first time, the Clan needed the 5–14 Concordia Cavaliers to defeat the 9–10 Western Washington University Vikings on the road. Huddled around a laptop postgame, the team watched the Cavaliers, who had beaten SFU only two days earlier, pull off the upset.

It was a fantastic moment, and one that rewarded the Clan for a season of steady improvement. Reflecting on the making the playoffs more than a week later, head coach Steve Hanson had this to say to The Peak:  

“I’ve always said that our expectations have to be making playoffs every year, and even though it was a very close race getting in, we were happy getting there for the first time. When you’re part of a program that hasn’t had a lot of success, it’s overcoming some of those mental barriers.”

The team was definitely able to overcome these barriers. If there is one thing that cannot be doubted about this year’s team, it’s the group’s resiliency.

Despite a strong showing in the team’s pre-season games, the Clan got off to a shaky start in the GNAC. The team went 1–1 in the conference before the Christmas break (their win coming against Concordia), before losing five straight games to start the new year. The team then played in what will go down as one of the craziest games in SFU’s history, a triple-overtime win against Montana State University Billings.

The team had multiple huge wins this season, with back-to-back wins against Saint Martin’s University and Northwest Nazarene (two of the top teams in the conference) being another major highlight from this year’s group. These wins kickstarted a span of games in which the Clan won six out of seven, a stretch in which the team won over half of the total conference wins on the season. SFU proved that when they were on, they could play with anybody.

But what changed from last year, when the team finished 4–16 and second last in the conference? For one, the team’s additions of Julian Roche, Jasdeep Singh, and Wilfried Balata gave the Clan an inside presence that they did not have last season. Furthermore, with senior star and conference scoring leader N’Kosi Kedar Salam leaving in 2018, the team was forced to change the way it played offensively.

Switching from an offense that ran a lot of isolation plays, the team ran a more pick-and-roll heavy offence that involved point guard Michael Provenzano and the bigs with shooters spacing on the perimeter. The results speak for themselves: Provenzano led the GNAC with 5.0 assists per game, Roche was named to the all GNAC second team in his first season for SFU, five players averaged double digits in scoring, and the Clan led the conference in three-point shooting percentage. This unselfish brand of basketball allowed for whoever was feeling it on any given day to be put into situations to succeed.

Whether it was Singh breaking out for 31 points against Western Washington in a crucial game, or Balata carrying his team with a 30 point outburst, the next-man-up attitude was exciting to watch. It was a season in which individual performances were celebrated, but not relied upon, and the team’s increased depth was noticeable.

Unfortunately for the team, their season ended with a heartbreaking 76–75 loss to Northwest Nazarene on Thursday, March 7. While the team undoubtedly feels that they could’ve won that game, the experience will only make them hungrier going forward. The team’s core players are all returning, and the future is bright for SFU men’s basketball going forward.