Buzzer-beating Bliss

 Managing Editor

Having spent the last two minutes of regulation time on their feet, Western fans erupted as guard Devon Alexander’s game-tying 3-pointer fell through the net as the buzzer sounded, sending last Saturday’s game against Seattle Pacific University into overtime.

After a resonance that surely rivaled the decibels at Autzen Stadium, fans remained on their feet through the two overtimes in which the Wolves secured their win over SPU (16-5 overall, 8-3 GNAC) 98-84.

Lengthening their winning streak to eight, the team added more than just a “W” to their schedule. The No. 20 Wolves (18- 3 overall, 10-1 GNAC) climbed up four spots in the National Association of Basketball Coaches poll, since earning a No. 24 ranking on Jan. 27, the first top 25 national ranking of the program’s history.

“We are proud that we have been able to give national recognition to our university,” Head Coach Brady Bergeson said. In addition, forward Andy Avgi, who joined the 1000-point club in the Wolves’ win against Western Washington, was named GNAC player of the week after his career-high 33-point performance against SPU.

Ten of Avgi’s 33 points came from the charity stripe where he shot a 10-for-11 (90 percent) and converted 11 of 20 field goals.

Other double-digit contributors included Alexander with 20, guard Julian Nichols with 18 and guard Jordan Wiley with 10.

Despite Avgi’s outstanding offensive performance, the forward attributes their win to the team’s defense.

“The main focus of this week was our defense, and I believe that we did it well. Our defense got us into overtime,” Avgi said. In their previous meeting with the Falcons, the Wolves fell 83-76 at Brougham Pavilion in Seattle, Wash. on Jan. 1.

Going into the game against SPU, Bergeson acknowledged the “unique challenges” the
Wolves needed to prepare for.

“Our game plan was primarily the same the second time around as it was the first. We made one adjustment to help with our baseline rotations,” he said.

The Falcons led for the first five minutes of the half, creating at most a six point deficit. A jumper by forward Adam Hastings with less than 10 minutes left in the half provided the momentum Western needed for a 9-0 run to take the lead 24-

The Wolves were in the winning position for the first time in the game before the Falcons stole the lead back 33-30 with 2:42 left in the first half. SPU sustained their lead and ended the first period with the upper hand 38-34.

Up by four at the start of the second half, SPU continued their lead 49-38. The Falcons had a nine-point lead over the Wolves for the majority of the half. On one occasion, Western came within five points of Seattle Pacific (57-52), when Avgi scored his only 3-pointer of the night.

With less than five minutes left in regulation, the Falcons led 67-58. Throughout the rest of the half, whenever Avgi approached the free-throw line, crickets could be heard. The crowd’s silence spoke volumes of how Western’s fan-base wanted the win just as much as, if not more than, the Wolves themselves.

On an 11-5 run with under 10 seconds left, the Wolves closed the deficit to three.
Much like Russell Wilson in the last 15 seconds of Super Bowl XLIX, SPU’s guard Matt Borton missed his chance to seal the deal; Borton missed both shots at the freethrow line.

With 7.6 seconds in regulation, an anxiety-filled gym watched in awe as Alexander
waited until the last second to sink one from outside of the arc.

Tied at 72, Bergeson described the first overtime period as “a heavyweight lugfest.” “It was like two large fighters, standing in the ring exchanging right hands,” he said. “We knew who they were going to every time and they knew what we were doing, too.”

With 26 seconds left in the first overtime period, forward Mitch Penner sunk one of two of his free throws to send the game into a second overtime.

Tied again at 79, the Wolves went into the second overtime relying on their conditioning to bring them to victory. Bergeson explained that the Wolves “continued to press and wear SPU down with ball pressure.”

Western lead by four 83-79 at the opening of the second overtime with a jumper from Avgi and a pair of free throws by Alexander. “Once we got a lead in, our [players] smelled blood and were able to close,” Bergeson said.

And closed they did, winning by 10 points with a final score 94-84. “We lost [in Seattle] and we didn’t play our best,” Avgi said. “We played our best here, and SPU played their best, and we came out with the win.”

The Wolves shot 29-for-61 (47.5 percent) from the field, 5-of-18 (27.8 percent) from behind the arc and 31-for-36 (86.1 percent) at the free-throw line. SPU shot 29-for-63 (46 percent) from the field, 5-of-15 (33.3 percent) from 3-point range and 21-for-30 (70 percent) at the charity stripe.

“Winning always feels good,” Alexander said. “That feeling of success motivates us to not settle for anything less. We don’t really want to think about stats.”

At the time of publication on Feb. 5, the Wolves were competing against the Central Washington Wildcats at Ellensburg, Wash.