Hit the court running

Men’s basketball team uses break to find stride

Callaghan Bluechel and Kyle Morrison

During winter break, while most of the student body was off campus, the men’s basketball season was in full swing. The team went 5-3 over break, going 3-1 in conference to bring the team to third place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with a 10-5 record overall and 5-1 in the conference.

Since 2020, Seattle Pacific University has implemented a six-week winter break that goes from Thanksgiving through the New Year. This is much longer than most other schools in the country and a very important part of the season for both basketball teams.

“I think it’s a super cool opportunity. I mean, we have five weeks in Seattle together without anyone on campus,” sophomore point guard Zackary Paulsen said. “There is not much to do except play basketball and hang out. We get to grow and become closer as a team.”

The break started off with a 97-71 win over Warner Pacific on Nov. 26, powered by a double-double from junior guard Ben Baker-McCann and 19 points from Paulsen.

The team then flew to Alaska to play their first two conference games against Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Anchorage. Despite a 20-point performance from junior forward Shaw Anderson, Alaska Fairbanks took the first contest. However, the team bounced back with a slim 90-87 victory against Alaska Anchorage in a back-and-forth game that would be decided by clutch performances from multiple Falcons.

The team returned to Royal Brougham for one game on Dec. 8 against Evergreen State, a 99-54 blowout win driven by 10-point efforts from five different Falcons, including a double-double from sophomore forward Kelton Samore.

The team then went on the road to California and lost two games, 86-75 and 80-74, to San Marcos and Dominguez Hills on Dec. 17 and Dec. 19. While the Falcons trailed from the beginning in both contests, the team made a Herculean effort to come back from a 45-24 halftime deficit that barely failed. Paulsen believes the unsuccessful California trip was a wake-up call for the team.

“We had a very serious and important internal conversation after that game that kinda made us look at who we were and who we wanted to be,” Paulsen explained. “We needed to get better at playing hard.”

The Falcons have since embarked on a four-game win streak.

The first was on Dec. 29 against Northwest Nazarene. While the Nighthawks jumped out to an early lead, the Falcons quickly rebounded to go up 36-32 at the half. Northwest Nazarene kept the game close the rest of the way, but clutch efforts from sophomore guard Maui Sze and sophomore guard Casson Rouse prevented the Nighthawks from regaining the lead, and the Falcons won 79-69.

The next game pitted the Falcons against Central Washington University on New Year’s Eve. The Falcons got out to an early lead and never let it go, but the night was punctuated by Anderson’s 22 points, bringing him past 1000 on his career, a milestone that only 38 other players in SPU’s basketball program have previously achieved.

As students returned to SPU, the team went north, beating their Canadian rivals Simon Fraser on Jan. 5 by a score of 92-72 and then beating Western Washington in Bellingham 90-73. Kelton Samore scored 21 and 19 points in the two contests, and Shaw Anderson dropped 28 against Western Washington.

The team is sitting in a good position in the GNAC as they enter 2023, and Paulsen is excited about what he is seeing.

“We have a lot of new guys, and I think that showed early on as we were trying to figure ourselves out and who we were going to be as a team, and I think we started to figure that out,” Paulsen said. “I think we are one of the most unselfish teams I’ve ever been a part of. It’s all about us this year.”

The Falcons will host Western Oregon on Jan. 12 before a crucial matchup at Royal Brougham Pavillion with Saint Martins on Jan. 14. Saint Martins is currently undefeated in GNAC play with a 5-0 record.