The Saints men's basketball team has won the GNAC regular season title for the first time in program history. The Saints earned the No. 1 seed in the GNAC Men's Basketball Championships, which will be held at Western Washington University, in Bellingham, from March 7 - 9. Story by Austin Byrnes, sports information director. Republished from Saints Athletics. Photo credit: Ron Smith.
ELLENSBURG, Wash. – Saint Martin's entered the game with Central Washington understanding that a win meant the first ever GNAC regular season championship in program history. Drama unfolded in Ellensburg, and it took herculean efforts from Luke Chavez and BJ Standley for the Saints to fight for a 105-96 double overtime victory to clinch the title.
Chavez, who continues to build upon one of the greatest careers in Saint Martin's basketball history, left it all out on the court. The senior finished with a career-high 33 points, with five 3-pointers made, five rebounds, and three assists, while playing most of the second half and all overtimes with four fouls. Standley played 46 of the 48 minutes, ending with nearly a career-high in points as well at 29, with five rebounds, and six assists. The win clinches the first ever GNAC regular title in program history, and the Saints will look to complete the sweep with their first ever GNAC Championships crown next weekend in Bellingham, Washington.
"To earn the outright championship tonight means these guys accomplished one of their goals from the beginning of the year," said head coach Alex Pribble. "They've forever changed the narrative for Saint Martin's men's basketball, and I couldn't be happier for them. These seniors, and this whole team have worked incredibly hard. They deserve to call themselves champions."
In the opening five minutes of the game, the Wildcats and the Saints combined to knock down seven 3-pointers. Central Washington gained the first lead of the game with a 19-11 lead with 13:18 remaining in the first half.
Chavez and Standley began to dig the Saints out of their hole, connecting on 3-pointers of their own and within seven minutes, the Saints had cut the lead down to one possession at 26-24. Saint Martin's continued to answer every shot that landed for the Wildcats, tying the game at 38-38 on a layup from Jared Mathews with 1:44 left on the clock. Central Washington, however, never allowed the Saints to take the lead back before heading to halftime with a 40-38 edge.
The start of the second half saw the Saints continue their offensive flow from the end of the first half. The Saints' first lead since the start of the game came four minutes into the second half, when Rhett Baerlocher stepped out and hit a 3-pointer, putting Saint Martin's up 49-47.
Saint Martin's lead held strong over the next 10 minutes and was only seven minutes away from a GNAC outright title. However, Central Washington's offense continued to trim away and the Saints' offense went cold down the stretch. Just three minutes later in the action, the Wildcats held a 75-70 lead and looked to be on the way to shocking the GNAC leader.
With their backs to wall, Pribble turned to his GNAC Preseason Player of the Year in Chavez. One of the most clutch players in program history added another tale to his story. In the final two minutes, Chavez scored the final seven points for the Saints, but none were bigger than the game-tying 3-pointer after a Baerlocher offensive rebound to send the game into overtime.
Playing down the stretch with four fouls, Chavez had no room for error. Not only did Chavez manage to not foul in the first overtime period, he scored six of the Saints' eight points. Zero points were scored in the final 1:45 minutes of action in overtime, and the Wildcats and Saints went to a second overtime period at 87-87.
Tavian Henderson opened up the second overtime with a dunk off of the assist from Chavez. After trading baskets in the opening possessions, the Saints began to pull away. Baerlocher hit his fourth 3-pointer of the game to break the 89-89 tie and Standley took over with back-to-back and-one plays to stretch the lead to 101-93. In the final minute, Standley, the best free throw shooter in the GNAC, calmly hit all four attempts and the Saints iced the 105-96 victory.
"Luke and BJ were terrific tonight," proclaimed Pribble. "Without EJ (Boyce) in the lineup, we really relied on those guys to carry the load and they stepped up. They hit some huge shots down the stretch, along with a big one from Rhett, and just continued to battle defensively. You've got to give a lot of credit to Central Washington. They played really well and with a lot of emotions on senior night. I thought our guys showed incredible resilience, sticking together and finding a way to win this game."
Baerlocher finished with the game with 14 points, and eight rebounds, tying him with Henderson for the team lead. The Saints ran a small rotation over the 250 minutes, with seven players playing 249 minutes of action.
As a team, Saint Martin's shot 36-for-73 (49.3 percent) from the floor, 12-for-29 (41.4 percent) beyond the arc, and 21-for-30 (70.0 percent) at the line. The Saints grabbed 41 rebounds compared to the Wildcats' 30, and finished with 18 assists on 12 turnovers, eight steals, and three blocks. The 105 points is the first time since December 9, 2017 the Saints have reached the century mark, and November 23, 2016 since doing so against a D-II opponent.
Saint Martin's enters the GNAC Champions as the No. 1 seed and will receive a bye to the semifinals on Friday. The Saints will play the winner of Western Oregon/Montana State Billings at 7:30 p.m. on Friday with live stats and video of the game available on gnacsports.com. Tickets can also be purchased for the tournament through gnacsports.com.