Men’s basketball team splits weekend play at Pioneer Challenge

Overtime is heralded as one of the most physically and emotionally taxing occurrences in all of sports. But when the game needs an extra overtime to reach its end, exhausting doesn’t even begin to tell the tale.

With that said, the Sonoma State University men’s basketball team found a way to dig deep into its core, outlasting Seattle Pacific 100-93 in a double-overtime marathon victory Friday afternoon; a game in which four Seawolf players – Jordan Fleck, Jordan Hickman, Armani Nicolis, and Jackson Gion – each managed to score in double-digit figures.

In the opening half, the Seawolves found themselves trailing early, with Seattle Pacific holding a 15-8 lead with 11:13 remaining. 

That lead wouldn’t last long though, as Sonoma State roared back with a 20-5 run, flipping the early seven-point deficit into an eight-point lead. Behind 34-25 with 2:39 left in the period, the Falcons summoned a run of their own, lighting up the scoreboard with six points to get within three of Sonoma State before the end of the half – leaving the Seawolves with a 34-31 edge.

For the opening 20 minutes of play, Nicolis spearheaded the Seawolf attack, providing seven points and a steal. Fleck and Hickman also contributed six points each, giving the team valuable minutes. As for Nicolis’ impact, it wasn’t short-lived – as the next half became the Nicolis show. During the back-and-forth second half, Nicolis shot four of eight from the field, adding nine to his seven first-half points while also collecting five rebounds.

“Honestly, I’m just letting the game come to me,”  Nicolis said. “We play small, so we’re versatile on the offensive end, creating shots for one another.”

 After a three-pointer in the first minute by Pacific’s Nikhil Lizotte, and then a three-pointer in response from Nicolis – both teams played lead-change ping-pong, with a total of nine lead changes taking effect. 

With the fate of the game lingering in the balance, only 18 seconds stood between victory or defeat. In those 18 seconds, down 65-62, Sonoma State needed something clutch to keep the game alive. 

As the clock ticked away, guard Mason Phillips passed the ball to Gion, who answered the call with a much-needed three-pointer to tie the game at 65 apiece – propelling the game into overtime. His game-tying heroics became his third three-pointer of the game and most important shot of the afternoon.

Following Gion’s cold-blooded moment, the game quickly shifted into overtime – an unforgiving five minutes that will undoubtedly reward you for mental toughness, or bury you six feet under for lack of focus.

In the early going, the Falcons found a way to climb out to a four-point advantage. A responding three-pointer by Nicolis and a string of free throws from Phillips and Hickman notched the game at 76 points each with 00:43 to go. 

Then, with three seconds left to spare, Phillips attempted to lay in a game-winning shot as the clock faded to zero; it rattled in, and then out. Tied at 76-76, a second overtime ensued.

At this juncture, the high-flying Falcons began to slip, accumulating a crucial eight fouls in the final five minutes of play. The Seawolves capitalized on Pacific’s errors, shooting 14 for 15 from the charity stripe, with Fleck nailing all six of his free-throw opportunities down the stretch. 

Trailing 81-79, Pacific had a chance to increase its lead, but Gion once again had other plans. With 03:35 remaining, another three-point chance presented itself, and Gion obliged, hammering home the shot from behind the arc. 

The shot all but sealed the victory for Sonoma State, leaving the Falcons reeling with not much gas left in the tank. Following the three-pointer, the defense held its own and ultimately contributed to the 100-93 double-overtime effort. 

In 29 minutes of action, Fleck – a former Cypress Junior College standout – led the way with 21 points, shooting 60 percent from the field on 10 attempts. He also provided a valuable 11-point spark in 10 minutes of overtime thanks to his ability to knock down free-throws.

Hickman, the team’s other Jordan, chipped in 20 points on six of 14 attempts from the field – 12 of which came in both overtime periods.

Gion, the man with ice in his veins, shot four for nine from beyond the arc, scoring 12 important points when the team needed it most.

As for Nicolis, he had 19 points in 44 minutes on the floor, the most by any Seawolf player during the game. 

“Coach always tells us to play hard and smart for 40 minutes,” Nicolis said. “It’s been his motto for years, and during this game, we did just that.”

Following the double-overtime thriller, the Seawolves seemed a bit exhausted during Saturday afternoon’s tilt against Montana State Billings, ultimately falling 67-61 in regulation. 

For the game, Montana State Billings shut down the Seawolf attack, forcing players out of focus and causing the team as a whole to shoot 21 for 63 from the field, a meager 33.3 percent.

“After playing Friday, it’s tough because you play basketball every day for hours, but games like that wear on you mentally,” Nicolis said. “You start making mistakes because of fatigue, but deep down you find a way to push on. It’s just tough the next day knowing that you might not be 100 percent mentally or physically after long games like that.”

Following his 19-point effort Friday afternoon, Nicolis managed to unload 26 points on nine of 14 attempts from the field, while also adding seven points from the free-throw line. He ended the game as one of the few bright spots for either team, as both struggled to stay consistent throughout the game. In the first half, the Seawolves shot poorly, only shooting 30.6 percent on 36 attempts from the field and 12.5 percent on eight tries from beyond the arc. Even then, the Yellowjackets shot at a similar clip, struggling to find the hoop and keeping the Seawolves around at 32-29 after the first 20 minutes of regulation play.

To begin the second half, the Yellowjackets took the floor with guns ablazing, darting out to a swift 13-point advantage on the coattails of forward Kamal Tall, who scored 10 points to open the half. Trailing 57-44 with 08:37 left in the game, Sonoma State kicked its energy into high-gear, rattling off an efficient 16-6 run, jetting to within three points on a Seth Cobb free throw with 00:55 left on the clock. 

However, the comeback never came to fruition, as the Seawolves were unable to break free of the Yellowjackets’ solid defense and timely shooting. With the loss, Sonoma State drops its first game of the young season.

“In the next few games, we as a team will prepare like we do every week,” Nicolis said. “We’re very excited for the Ron Logsdon Classic and can’t wait to play at home in front of our fans. We want to get back on track, and what better way to do that than in the Wolves’ Den?”

The tournament, featuring Minnesota State, Dominican University and Fresno Pacific kicks off at 5:30 p.m. this Friday, with Sonoma State’s first game against Fresno Pacific starting at 7:30 p.m.