Sports has a long history of worst-to-first stories. For a Seattle University men's basketball program that finished in last place in the Western Athletic Conference in 2013, visions of a first-place turnaround in 2014 make sense considering how closely the Redhawks have played reigning WAC tournament champion New Mexico State.
In two losses to the Aggies last season, the Redhawks were outscored by a total of four points -- including an 83-82 double-OT loss on Jan. 10 at KeyArena.
Midway through the second half, SU took an eight-point lead (its largest of the game) before New Mexico State rallied to tie the score with four minutes remaining in regulation. The teams went back and forth down before a three-pointer by forward Clarence Trent and two free throws by point guard D'Vonne Pickett put the Redhawks up by three with 30 seconds left. The Aggies responded, however, as Bandja Sy's three with seven seconds left forced the first overtime.
The Redhawks never led in the first extra session, but were able to tie the score on forward Chad Rasmussen's trey with 20 seconds left. Point guard Prince Obasi then had a chance to win it for SU at the buzzer, but his pull-up jumper fell short.
Seattle U drew first blood in the second overtime when Pickett split a pair of free throws, but NMSU's Tyrone Watson hit a jumper on the other end that would give the Aggies the lead for good. SU trailed by three in the final seconds, but Rasmussen and Obasi each missed three-pointers before time ran out on the Redhawks.
Obasi, Green and Trent scored 15 points apiece for Seattle U, with Obasi and Trent recording double-doubles with 11 and 10 rebounds, respectively. Pickett added 13 points.
One month after the double-overtime loss, SU traveled to Las Cruces, N.M., and lost a 60-57 decision to the Aggies. That game could've gone to overtime, but the Redhawks missed a three as time expired.
Agonizing as they may have been, however, SU's losses to New Mexico State last season represent a positive sign for next season.
The WAC has been through a major overhaul this summer: Seven schools are gone, six newcomers have arrived, and Seattle U joins New Mexico State and Idaho as one of just three holdovers. The Aggies are the heavy favorites to repeat as conference champs, and the Redhawks could be slotted as high as No. 2 in preseason polls.
Should the WAC's automatic NCAA tournament berth come down to a Redhawks-Aggies matchup in the conference finals, SU has proven they can trade punches with the WAC's defending champion.
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