CWU men’s basketball secures playoff spot with back-to-back buzzer-beater wins


Brock Gilbert signaling on the court. Photo Courtesy of Jacob Thompson, Thompson Sports Media

Charis Jones, Staff Reporter

With the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament underway, CWU men’s basketball has risen to the challenge and concluded their regular season with two back-to-back buzzer-beater wins.

“[The first] buzzer beater by Camron McNeil was a feeling that gave me and the rest of the guys so much joy,” junior forward Samaad Hector said. “We were able to knock off the best team in the conference who has currently won 10 out of their last 11 [games], with that loss coming against us. The other buzzer-beater at Western Oregon also felt nice, not only because I was the one who made the shot, but also because my teammates trusted me to take and make that shot.”

The final buzzer-beater that took place at Western Oregon University (WOU) was a substantial win for the Wildcats, considering it not only secured their spot as the fourth seed in the tournament, but also because the last time they faced off against WOU, CWU was the one who felt short due to a buzzer-beater. 

“The first time we played [WOU] they beat us on a buzzer-beater, so it felt nice to get some revenge, and then to come out a few days later [in the GNAC Tournament] and play that same team and put on a statement for the conference showed a lot about this group of guys,” Hector said.

Camron McNeil pushing the pace. Photo Courtesy of Jacob Thompson, Thompson Sports Media

Carrying the momentum from these two victories, the Wildcats have made their way to Western Washington University (WWU) in Bellingham, Washington, where they have already begun their matchups in pursuit of the tournament title.

“Coming off those two big wins to end the regular season has given us momentum heading into the playoffs,” junior forward Camron McNeil said. “We’ve been operating the same as before, just really honing in and familiarizing ourselves with our opponents. At this point of this season, everyone knows what everyone likes to do, but whoever can pay attention to the details has a good chance.”

Over the course of the men’s season, senior guard Brock Gilbert said that the team has become a tight knit group, which has contributed to their overall success throughout these past few months. 

“We have definitely become closer as a team,” Gilbert said. “This team chemistry is by far the best I have been a part of, which has made everything on and off the court so much easier.”

Gilbert was also sure to recognize key players on the bench, such as sophomore Gaige Ainslie for his uplifting energy and the role that he has played on this team.

“Gaige Ainslie has been injured all year but has never let it affect him or his attitude,” Gilbert said. “This really makes it easier to do what we got [to] on the court with guys like him on our bench.”

Sophomore guard Colby Gennett had nice things to say about Ainslee and other bench players as well.

“The people that have been the most valuable people are some of the people that won’t get the recognition on the stat sheet,” Gennett said. “Players like Gaige who have been going through surgery most of the season, along with freshmen like Xavier and Bennett who have always accepted their roles on the team [ help to] bring that energy on the bench and lift the team spirit which was very important this season, especially during the rough patches.”

Other aspects contributing to the Wildcat’s prosperity this season include consistency and focus, according to Hector.

Colby Gennett lining up the shot. Photo courtesy of Jacob Thompson, Thompson Sports Media

“As a team, we have been buckling down and focusing on the things that have gotten us to this point,” Hector said. “We want to focus on consistent quality possessions, and to sum up what that means exactly is that we need to value the basketball each time down the floor and take good shots. This team has players who can put the ball in the basket and we want to maximize our chances of winning the game by taking the most shots and the best shots.”

These victories have given the team momentum heading into the playoffs, and their success can be attributed to their close-knit team chemistry, consistent focus, and the contributions of key players on the bench. 

The team is currently vying for the championship, and their strategy is to make the most of every opportunity to score and take as many effective shots as possible to maximize their chances of taking home the title.