Men’s basketball not ready to call it a day
By Reba Lean
Sun Star Reporter
The Nanook men aren’t ready for the season to end. They’re just getting warmed up.
Everyone seems to agree, if the Nooks had started out like they have been playing recently, they would be headed to the playoffs.
Thursday and Saturday’s games yielded two wins the team had been looking for all season long. On Thursday, a nearly hopeless game against the GNAC top-ranked team, Seattle Pacific, ended in an overtime victory for UAF. The last place Nooks said they had nothing to lose.
It was easy to see why the Falcons were in the top slot of the conference. They were quick on the floor, and kept the ball moving, gathering four three-pointers in the first half. But if they were lightning, the Nanooks were like thunder following shortly behind. The half finished 48-39, with the Falcons on top.
After the break, the Nanooks first let the lead widen to 18 points, and then, just when the crowd was starting to lose interest, they started to close the gap.
With three minutes left, the Nooks were just six points behind. Senior Emmanuel Jenkins went for a layup and was fouled, giving him the opportunity to shorten the lead to four. Junior Nash Maynard picked up Jenkins’ missed shot after a Falcon turnover, and put it to good use, bringing the Nooks up to within two. With just two and a half minutes left, the teams put all their energy into winning the game, and the excitement caused a technical foul on junior Boe Edwards that the Falcons couldn’t capitalize on. Junior Kyle Smith replaced Jenkins with just six seconds on the clock. He ran the ball up the court, drove in, and made the layup, putting the game into overtime at 96-96.
The ball game seemed to be decided by the Nanook bench and the boisterous crowd. Although evenly scoring throughout the first few minutes, the gym overflowed with Nanook love from the Alaska fans and it energized the team. With over a minute and a half left to go, Jenkins covered his face with his towel, unable to watch the game.
The overtime players were the unconventional ones, including Smith and freshman Cole Daniels. They kept the fouls coming, as the Falcons watched in disbelief. After a 10-0 run, the Nanooks finished up 113-105.
The whole team contributed to the win as coach Clemon Johnson nearly ran through his entire bench to keep the momentum going. “I’m just enjoying the moment,” he said afterwards. He said that this was the best win the Nanooks have seen all season long. As Smith put it, “Tough times never last, tough people do.”
After the win, both Smith and junior Joe Powell announced their intent to stick with the Nanooks next year. “We’re looking to put Fairbanks back on the map,” Powell said.
By Saturday, the Nanooks had still not lost their mo’. Against Northwest Nazarene, who had previously beaten them 86-70, the Nanooks came out hot. But it soon became apparent that they had cooled off a little since Thursday. A series of mistakes from the home team, and three-pointers from the opponents, left the Nanooks trailing at the half, 39-31.
While the first half was a Jenkins and Maynard show, with seven and 10 points respectively, senior Jon Moe and junior Clayton Edwin turned up the heat early in the second half for a bout of confidence boosting. The home team pulled ahead, and remained there until things got tight in the final minutes.
With just four seconds left on the clock, Maynard was fouled and sunk his freebies putting his team up 77-74. It looked like the Nooks had it in the bag. Then Edwards fouled a Crusader and put him at the free throw line. NNU’s Jamie Eisinger made the first shot and let the other bounce off the rim, hoping his team would rebound. But it was junior Joe Powell that snagged the ball and he held onto it for dear life. The Nanooks won, 77-75.
The two wins were part of the Nanooks’ final three of four games winning streak. “It meant the world to me,” said senior Jenkins. He and Jon Moe enjoyed their final college career win on Saturday. His layup in the last 15 seconds that put the Nooks ahead one point “was just my farewell, I guess,” he said. Jenkins, the number three scorer in the GNAC, hopes to continue playing the game, hopefully across the Pond in Italy. He plans to use Coach Johnson’s NBA contacts for a hookup in the future. Johnson is at a loss of what to do without his two senior starters next year.
Chronic high scorer and most clutch teammate Nash Maynard wasn’t ready to see the season end. “I think we’re finally getting our chemistry together,” he said. Maynard put up 20 points for the Nooks in the last game. Powell, a new 6’8” addition as of this semester, made a lasting impression on the coach. “He lived in the corner like a three-point shooter,” he said, but felt he had awakened in the most recent games. Powell snatched 12 rebounds on Saturday.
Coach Johnson was most unwilling of all to see the season go. After the Western Oregon win, his team set a goal to win the last few games. Though they narrowly lost to Anchorage, he felt proud of what they had accomplished. “I stopped coaching so much,” he said. He let Jenkins run the show, and stopped trying to set plays for his scrappy team. When they will go into next season, they’ll be missing the two essential seniors that have carried so much weight over the years, but the rest of the team will be a little older, a little wiser.