SEATTLE – Coach Ryan Looney said his players were given 10 seconds to celebrate in the locker room.
And understandably, everyone in the Seattle Pacific locker room went crazy.
“Initially, when the buzzer went off, I was in shock at the whole thing,” Seattle Pacific forward Jobi Wall said. “We were definitely celebrating a lot in the locker room and enjoying it. An experience like that doesn’t happen too often.”
The small, private Division II school picked up plenty of national exposure last week when the Falcons upset No. 16 Arizona in an exhibition game played on the Wildcats’ home floor.
After leading by as many as 13 in the second half, Seattle Pacific held off a late Arizona rally for a 69-68 win. Wall finished with a game-high 24 points as the Falcons became the first team to beat the Wildcats in an exhibition game in nearly 30 years.
Not bad for a program picked to finish second in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference this season.
“It’s more of a confidence-builder than anything. It’s a good foundation for us to move forward, and to continue to build,” Wall said. “As we went back and watched the film we definitely didn’t play a perfect game and there is a lot to improve on. It’s encouraging to be able to play at that level and see things to improve on and get better.”
In the grand scheme, the Falcons simply won a glorified scrimmage that happened to take place in front of 12,000 paying fans. But they are the only team in the country with a victory over a Top 25 opponent so far. And they get another shot at making some noise tonight when they travel across town to face Washington.
There were plenty of opportunities for Seattle Pacific to fold as many lower-division teams do in exhibition games. They trailed 6-0 immediately and saw Arizona rally to take the lead briefly with 4:03 left in the second half.
But it was the Falcons making the plays in the closing seconds and holding on when Nick Johnson’s 3-pointer missed at the buzzer.
“There’s been so many emails and voicemails and text messages that, me personally, I couldn’t possibly respond to them all. I hope in time I’ll be able to,” said Looney, the Central Valley High graduate in his third year at the school. “Just like we told our players at the end of the game, we don’t want it to be the defining moment of our season.”
It’s not as if the Falcons don’t have talent. Wall is one of three transfers on the roster, including 6-foot-11 center Andy Poling, who started his career at Gonzaga.
Freshman guard Riley Stockton, who played at Ferris, is also on the roster.
Looney admits the Falcons were in a better position than Arizona. Seattle Pacific spent nearly a week playing teams in the Bahamas in September. It helped to integrate a lineup that lost a pair of starters from last season’s team that reached the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament.
“The objective when we go into (exhibitions) isn’t necessarily to win or lose but to be a better team than when we started,” Looney said. “And the other part is we try and recruit the best players possible and we tell them that even though we’re a Division II school we’re going to schedule the right way every year and give them an opportunity to play in some Division I games.”