March 15, 2009

Courtesy Seattle Pacific

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Larry Gordon scored five of his 28 points during the decisive second-half stretch Saturday as Cal Poly Pomona ended Seattle Pacific's season with an 80-72 win in the second round of the NCAA Division II men's basketball tournament at Carver Gymnasium.

SPU, which was making its fifth consecutive playoff appearance, finished with a 19-10 record. The Falcons, who were seeded No. 7 in the West Region, were the only team from the Great Northwest Athletic Conference to advance past the first round. They upset 23rd-ranked and second-seeded Western Washington 82-77 in Friday's opening round.

Before the season began, Coach Jeff Hironaka emphasized the value of getting his young SPU team into the NCAA Tournament.

The Falcons lost five senior starters from last year's team. Hironaka hoped this season's inexperienced group would gain familiarity with the postseason process and perhaps parlay that into a deep run in the playoffs next year when only one player departs.

"I told the kids, `if you told me at the beginning of the season we'd be here, I'd have been thrilled,'" Hironaka described of his parting postgame comments to the team. "We exceeded what was expected of us. It would have been nice to get that 20th win, but it didn't happen."

The third-seeded Broncos move into the regional final where they will meet the winner of Saturday night's contest between top-seed BYU-Hawaii and Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Gordon was nearly unstoppable Saturday, hitting 11-of-12 shots from the field for Cal Poly, which shot 66.7 percent (30-of-45) as a team. He also contributed 10 rebounds and five assists.

The Falcons countered with 45.5-percent accuracy (25-of-55), just their eighth game below the 50-percent plateau this season.

The Broncos captured the lead late in the opening period and maintained it throughout the second half. SPU drew within 55-53 on a layup by freshman Jake Anderson (Burlington, Wash./Burlington-Edison HS) with 7:25 left to play.

Pomona responded with nine consecutive points over the next two minutes, extending its advantage to 64-53. Gordon hit a 3-pointer, got a steal and fastbreak layup and assisted on a Walter Thompson trey during the pivotal run.

The margin stretched to as many as 12 points before the Falcons mounted a final rally. They trimmed the deficit to 75-70 on a free throw by Casey Reed (Canby, Ore.) with 43 seconds remaining.

A turnover returned the ball to SPU, but Adam Wardell missed two free throws at 0:34 and Thompson finished a fastbreak with a layup at the other end to secure the Broncos victory.

Junior Brandon Larrieu (Puyallup, Wash./Franklin Pierce HS) scored 15 of his 22 points during the second half to pace the Falcons. He led the team's first-round NCAA effort with a 24-point performance on Friday.

Rob Diederichs (Shoreline, Wash./Shorewood HS) scored 13 points and distributed six assists for SPU and Jeff Downs (Kirkland, Wash./Bellevue Christian HS) also scored 13. Reed, the Falcons only senior, tallied nine points and eight rebounds in his final collegiate contest.

Thompson finished with 18 points, of 5-of-5 shooting, and Tobias Jahn added 16 for Cal Poly.

"I think their seniors stepped up big time. Gordon and Thompson were 16-of-17 together, they combined for 46 points, they showed what being a senior is about tonight," Hironaka said. "We broke down defensively in the second half, but Cal Poly Pomona did a good job of isolating their best players. They gave them a chance to make it happen, and they did."

Pomona raced out to a 5-0 lead to start the game, all five points by Gordon.

The Falcons answered with 11 consecutive points, the first nine coming on 3-pointers by Reed, Diederichs and Larrieu.

Anderson finished the surge on a layup with 13:54 left in the first half and SPU leading 11-5.

The Broncos drew even and then went ahead for good, at 25-22, on a Gordon 3-pointer with 3:01 left in the opening period. Their halftime lead was 32-28

Points in the paint, normally the domain of the Falcons, fell in favor of Cal Poly. The Broncos netted 34 points from inside the lane, including 20 during the second half. SPU produced 22 points from the key.

For the fourth straight game, the Falcons were without the services of Chris Banchero (Seattle, Wash./O'Dea HS) and his team-leading 15.7-point scoring average. The sophomore point guard has been sidelined with an injured wrist.

"It hurts us a lot. He's definitely a catalyst," said Hironaka. "He makes it a lot easier on Brandon and the other guys. But life goes on, we had to play without him, and we were competitive."

The Falcons participated in the NCAA Tournament for the 20th time. They advanced to the national semifinals in 2000 and again in 2006, during Hironaka's fourth season.