Close encounters

In basketball one shot can be the difference between a great win and a depressing loss. The UAA men’s basketball team learned that the hard way in their home stand against Central Washington and Saint Martin’s Jan. 13 and 15.

One night the Seawolves stole a 93-90 win with a three-pointer at the buzzer against Central. The next they watched a three from the same spot rim out at the buzzer in a 79-76 loss to the Saints.

Against the Wildcats, James Hartman provided the Seawolves morelate-game heroics and the Wells Fargo Sports Complex crowd another exciting finish with his second game-winning three of the season after UAA squandered a double-digit lead by missing free throws down the stretch. UAA led by 12 but went 1-of-7 from the stripe over the final five minutes.

 “We made it harder than it should’ve been,” UAA head coach Rusty Osborne said. “We didn’t make the free throws but we found a way to win.”

After struggling in the first half and committing four turnovers in the second half, Hartman found his shot and scored 15 in the final 20 minutes including the game-winner. After Central’s Robert Hicks lay-up knotted the score with six seconds left, UAA’s Luke Cooper inbounded the ball to Hartman who bolted up court, pulled up from 22 feet and arched a shot over two Wildcat defenders. The shot hit the front of rim, the backboard and the back rim before finally dropping.

“James is a competitor. When it comes down to it he wants to make the big plays,” Osborne said. “He made some mistakes but he made up for it with a big shot.”

 Central Washington came into Anchorage having beaten the top three teams in the NCAA West Region. UAA was equally hot having won five of their last six including four straight at home. The Seawolves, played without injured leading scorer Marcus Robinson and Brian Hills, their No.1 rebounder andNo.2 scorer, who is sitting out an academic suspension.

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With the shortened rotation, UAA relied heavily on Hartman, Adam Fitt-Chappell and Mark Drake to carry the offense from the perimeter. They did just that. UAA shot 60 percent for the game including 13-of-27 from three-point range. Fitt-Chappell tallied career-high 29 points, Drake dropped 26 points and Hartman followed with a season-high 22 points.

“We needed it,” said UAA senior Mark Drake. “Shoot, how many are we playing with, eight? Man, you gotta give us props.”

Hicks finished with 26 points to lead five double figure scorers for the Wildcats.

Saint Martin’s arrived in Anchorage a battered team with seven straight losses including a 12 point defeat at UAF two nights earlier. Things got worse for the Saints when leading scorer Niko Nunogawa came down ill on game day. Midway through the first half, second leading scorer Soloman Wyatt fell and broke his wrist.

But Saint Martin’s was able to jump to a 46-31 halftime lead behind the play of sophomore guard Joe Chirhart. Chirhart, a graduate of Anchorage’s Dimond High School, made his first six shots including five treys to finish the first half with 19 points. He struggled in the second half but hit the game-winning free throws with 10 seconds left and finished with 21 points.

Drake missed a potential game-tying shot at the buzzer from the same spot as Hartman’s game-winner.

Playing in front of a family and friends had Chirhart pumped up but not as much as the team needing a win on the road.

“We needed some points,” said Chirhart, who scored 12 more than his average. “Niko got sick at like 1 o’clock this afternoon — that’s 20 points a game. It meant other people had to step up.”

Osborne warned his troops not to overlook Saint Martin’s after the Central win. But the first-year coach felt like that is exactly what happened.

“There is no way we should lose to that team. We shouldn’t lose to them even if they have their two best players,” Osborne said. “That’s what happens when you underestimate a team.”

After two quick Saints Buckets to open the second frame, UAA found themselves down 19 points. The Seawolves went to a match-up zone and whittled at the lead until they tied the game at 69 with 2:17 left on a pair a Bryan Freshwater free throws.

But Saints point guard Jabbar Gray, who finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, made a tough drive to beat the shot clock with 1:41 left. After a Fitt-Chappell jumper rimmed out, Gray struck again with the shot clock winding down to make it 73-69. Saint Martin’s hit 6-of-8 free throws to seal the win before surviving Drake’s close call at the buzzer.

“Coach told me to step towards the end and I took on that role,” Gray said. “It feels real good cause we’ve always come up here and never gotten a win.”

Outside a somber UAA locker room, Osborne bristled at the suggestion of a moral victory after his team battled back from a steep deficit.

“I’m not happy about anything. No way we should be behind by 19 points to those guys,” he said. “Young kids have to learn that lesson the hard way.”