They’ve got a fine kettle of mettle.
That’s the best way to describe the Simon Fraser Clan men’s basketball team after they battled through layers of second-half adversity on the road Saturday night to claim the biggest win in their NCAA history.
Forward Julian Roche drained a contested 10-foot jump shot with just five seconds left as the Clan (10-10 overall, 4-8 GNAC) rallied to stun the host and No. 12 nationally-ranked St. Martin’s Saints 61-59 at Marcus Pavilion in Lacey, Wash.
The victory snapped a seven-game win streak by the Saints (17-3 overall, 10-2 GNAC), who had begun the week as one of the nation’s hottest teams, climbing four spots to their highest ranking of the season.
“We just had a big focus to pound it inside because we had some size mismatches,” said Simon Fraser head coach Steve Hanson after the 6-foot-11 Roche managed game-highs in points with 23, and rebounds with 10.
“We let (Julian) go to work and he hit a tight shot,” added Hanson of a jumper contested by SMU senior, 6-foot-4 Rhett Baerlocher.
Simply put, beating a nationally-ranked team on the road leaves little doubt that the 2018-19 Clan are a vastly improved team. They now need to iron out the nights of inconsistent play, like Thursday’s 92-76 loss at Seattle Pacific, to join the conference’s top-half of post-season contending teams.
The victory, SFU’s third in its past six GNAC contests, pushes its record to 4-8, allowing it to equal last season’s league total (4-16) with eight games still remaining.
SFU also improved to 10-10 overall, equalling the win total of last season’s 10-18 campaign.
When the Saints’ E.J. Boyce, a San Jose State transfer, hit a trey with 8:10 left in the first half, St. Martin’s owned its largest lead of the game at 26-13.
In fact until Roche dropped the game winner, the Clan’s largest leads were at 2-0 off a Jas Singh lay-in, and 8-6 off a Michael Provenzano jumper.
A Roche lay-in 3:52 into the second half gave SFU a 41-40 lead, but it would be their last advantage until the game clock hit went down to five seconds.
A Boyce trey made it 58-51 for the home team with 5:33 left, but an Othniel Spence triple sandwiched between a pair of long-distance bombs from Provenzano set the stage for the dramatic victory.
Again, as a dimension the Clan did not have last season with a big-man of Roche’s stature, the parade of threes were partially generated by his presence.
“We were trying to get the high-low with Julian, and because we had the size mismatch, they had to help off the corners,” said Hanson of the Saints. “So our guards were able to get open looks. Mike got a couple of nice passes and he hit two big threes for us.”
The first was a direct answer to the big Boyce trey. The second, coming with 3:42 remaining, pulled the Clan to within 58-57.
Boyce made one of two free throws to make it 59-57, but Roche tied it, getting a great seal and scoring off a lay-in with 49 seconds left, before hitting what would have to be called the biggest shot of the team’s season.
What was the biggest plus in getting the Clan to finish line?
“We had to grind our way back and the team did an outstanding job of rebounding,” said Hanson, whose team out-rebounded the Saints 41-28. “Julian and Jas were outstanding on the offensive glass getting us extra possessions.”
Hanson highlighted the plus-13 differential in caroms against one of the West Region’s elite as being huge.
“Rebounding was our biggest weakness last year, so we really work on it every day in practice,” he continued of a night in which the Clan had more defensive rebounds (29) than the Saints had total rebounds (28). “I thought our Friday practice at St. Martin’s was critical in that, and tonight our guys came out and did a great job.”
Provenzano finished with 15 points and four assists, while Singh had nine points, five rebounds and two blocks.
SMU’s Boyce equalled Roche with 23 points, but no other Saints reached double figures.
SFU returns home to face Northwest Nazarene (Thursday), Central Washington (Saturday) and Western Washington (Tuesday, Feb .12) as part of a three-game homestand. All games tip at 7 p.m.
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