FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The Alaska Fairbanks men's basketball team honored four seniors prior to tip-off against Montana State Billings on Thursday. Jalon McCullough, Spencer Sweet, Zach Hatch and Quinn Daugharty were recognized before playing their final game on the Alaska Airlines Court of the Patty Center Building. There is something special about "Senior Night", and it was on display Thursday as each graduating player made a significant impact on the outcome of UAF's thrilling 71-68 victory over former Nanook head coach Mick Durham and the Yellowjackets.
Sweet come out scorching off the tip, collecting 10 of UAF's first 14 points of the game. Daugharty brought much-need energy off the bench, tallying four points, hauling in six rebounds and coming up with a timely steal. Hatch made the most of his minutes, connecting on his lone shot attempt while playing stifling defense down the stretch. McCullough provided the game-sealing free throws, extending the Nanooks lead to three points with just 5 seconds remaining.
McCullough would not have had an opportunity to clinch the game without a clutch shot from the Great Northwest Athletic Conference's leading scorer, Shadeed Shabazz (25.6 ppg). Trailing by one point with the game on the line, Shabazz drove baseline and pulled up for a mid-range jumper, drilling the shot with 13 seconds remaining to give the Nanooks a one-point advantage. On the ensuing in-bounds play, Shabazz, the NCAA Division II steals leader (3.92 per game), poked the ball free, which landed in McCullough's hands, where the senior was fouled before burying the crunch-time free throws.
Shabazz provided game-highs of 22 points, six assists and six steals to propel the Nanooks to a 10-8 record, which puts UAF in the sixth and final spot of the GNAC playoffs. Sweet dropped 17 points and grabbed a game-high 8 rebounds, while McCullough, a Fairbanks-native who won three state championships with the Monroe Catholic Rams, finished with nine points, including the pressure free throws.
"Being from Fairbanks and having the opportunity to play in front of my home town, my home city...I just told Zach (Hatch) before the game, I just wanted to come out and play as hard as I possibly could for my teammates, for my coaches, for everybody who came and watch me play and support the Nanooks." McCullough said after the victory.
The other three seniors also reflected on their time as a Nanook.
"They kind of lean on us as seniors coming back to kind of teach these guys what it's about, and you can't come in with a losing mentality, you have to come in and tell them 'we are going to win and we are going to make something happen this year.'" Hatch said. "We weren't picked very high, so coming in, we just try to tell these guys 'we got to go out and win, it is only us in here. You're up in the northern most school, there is nothing else to do, just come play basketball, workout and let's go get dubs (wins).'"
"All the hard work that goes into going out and performing for all the fans and stuff," Sweet said of what he will remember during his collegiate days. "Just a good learning experience, with all the lessons you learn about the season and stuff, it has been a good time. Good to do it here in a pretty cool environment and cool little community."
"Everyday you get to step on the court is great," Daugharty said. "I thought I wasn't going to play anymore, I got an opportunity out here and man, every day in the gym is just, lucky to be here. It is fun to get wins like this, but it is fun with these people, teammates, it is unbelievable."
The Nanooks will finish their regular-season with a road trip to Oregon. They will play at Concordia on Thursday, before taking on Western Oregon on Saturday, with major playoff implications on the line.
The UAF Women's began Thursday's double-header by welcoming the third-place Western Washington Vikings to town. The Nanooks fought for all four quarters, but ultimately fell 81-64 at the Patty Center. Jocelyn Gandara, the team's most reliable scorer, leading the GNAC with 18.8 points per game, led the Nooks once again with a game-high 25 points to go with 12 rebounds in the losing effort. Freshman Sam Tolliver added 15 points, but UAF's 33.3 field goal percentage hindered the Nanooks throughout the contest. The women's team will have their senior game Saturday, honoring Kylie Wallace, Sabrina Ungaro, and Brittany Richards. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. at the Patty Center against the Simon Fraser Clan.