ANCHORAGE – Travis Thompson scored 21 points to spark a comeback and Liam Gibcus made a huge contribution off the bench Thursday to lead 21st-ranked Alaska Anchorage to an 81-59 men’s basketball victory over Saint Martin’s at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex.
The Seawolves (19-5, 13-3 GNAC) also got 17 points and nine rebounds from senior All-America candidate Taylor Rohde as they stayed in contention for the Great Northwest Athletic Conference title and gained a half-game over idle Seattle Pacific (11-4 GNAC) in the race for second place.
The Saints (8-16, 4-11 GNAC) were led by 13 points apiece from forward Jeremy Green and guard Ryan Votaw, but the visitors from Lacey, Wash., could not capitalize on a fast start as they fell to 1-16 all-time in Anchorage, including eight straight losses.
After grabbing a quick 4-2 lead, the Seawolves went scoreless for five minutes and eventually fell behind 20-9 when SMU’s Brok Pendleton hit a short jumper at the 8:54 mark. Thompson got the home team on track, however, when he grabbed an offensive rebound and drew a foul on a three-point attempt, converting all three free throws.
The Seawolves took another hit when Rohde was whistled for a flagrant foul – his second of the game – with the Saints ahead 24-17 and 6:07 on the clock. But with Rohde on the bench, UAA got an immediate lift from his backup as Gibcus scored two quick baskets to slice the deficit to 26-21.
Senior Lonnie Ridgeway (11 points) converted a three-point play with 1:26 left, and Thompson nailed back-to-back three-pointers – including one right before halftime – to slice UAA’s deficit to 38-37 at the break.
The Saints extended to a 43-39 edge when Green intercepted a pass at midcourt and went in for a dunk, however the Seawolves took over after that. UAA converted four straight layups by different players and then got another trey from Thompson and a layup from Rohde to account for a game-deciding 13-0 run. SMU crept back within 53-46 on its next possession before the Seawolves extended to a double-digit lead for the final 12 minutes.
Thompson, a 6-1 sophomore guard, shot 7 of 8 from the field (4 of 5 from long range) to come one point shy of his career-high. The former Dimond High star also dished four assists.
Gibcus, a 6-10 junior from Australia, finished with his best outing a GNAC game this season, shooting 5 of 5 from the floor and grabbing a pair of rebounds in 14 minutes. He has now converted his last eight field-goal attempts over the past three games.
After starting 2 of 9 from the floor, the Seawolves made 31 of their final 45 shots to finish over 60 percent (.611, 33 of 54) for the second straight game. UAA sank half of its 12 three-point tries as well, getting 10 points (2-3 3FG), four assists and no turnovers from sophomore guard Kyle Fossman.
Senior point guard Steve White tallied eight points on 4-of-6 shooting and dished a game-high eight assists.
The Seawolves, ranked No. 2 in the West Region, can still win or share the GNAC title, but they would need victories in their last two games and Western Washington (14-1 GNAC) to lose at least two of its last three to pull the trick. The top two finishers in the regular-season standings receive quarterfinal byes for the Feb. 29-Mar. 3 GNAC Tournament in Lacey, Wash.
UAA finishes its home schedule Saturday when it hosts regionally 5th-ranked Western Oregon at 7 p.m. There will be pregame festivities to honor the team’s four seniors – Rohde, Ridgeway, White and Phillip Hearn – at approximately 6:50 p.m.