|Posted February 27, 2009|
Van Allen's buzzer-beater sends Pack into the playoffs
By Anthony Sandstrom
PUEBLO, Colo. - Ugly.
That's the only way to describe the shot Roman Van Allen (Jr., Los Angeles, Calif.) put up for the ThunderWolves at the close of Friday's game with Western State at Massari Arena.
Trailing by one with the game's final seconds running away, Van Allen tried to get a shot off, bobbled the ball, recontrolled it, and put up a desperation jumper off of his right foot, his body hinging at a 45-degree angle.
But the shot fell. And for the ThunderWolves, who needed one win to clinch a spot in the RMAC playoffs, it was the epitome of beauty.
Van Allen's shot came at the close of a game that seemed to be an easy Pack win for most of the game. Leading by as much as 15 points midway through the second half, Western State captured momentum in a big way, going on a 23-3 run and wresting momentum - and the lead - from the ThunderWolves, holding a 56-49 lead with 3:49 remaining in the game.
But a turning point came when Western State's Cameron Burney, who had a monstrous 16-point, 14-rebound game, fouled out as CSU-Pueblo began to make a push with the game in the Mountaineers' favor, 56-52, with two minutes remaining.
The ThunderWolves used that opportunity to create mismatches, and it worked to perfection. The Pack drove to the hole at every opportunity, either forcing fouls or getting points in the paint.
Rome Smith (Sr., Denver, Colo.), who was held to just four points at the time on an uncharacteristically cold night, took the Pack on his back in the closing minutes. One drive to the bucket created two foul shots for Smith, which brought the ThunderWolves to within one, 56-55, with 1:15 remaining.
On the Pack's next possession, Smith did the same, scoring a layup that gave the ThunderWolves the lead, 57-56, with 34 seconds left.
But a foul by Jake Trahern (Sr., Kit Carson, Colo.) that led to two free throws for the Mountaineers with just 11 seconds left, seemed to undo the Pack, as they once again trailed by one.
But that just set the stage for Van Allen to send the Pack to the playoffs in one fell swoop with his beautifully ugly bucket.
The ThunderWolves, which owns the tiebreakers over its closest RMAC foes in the standings, UC-Colorado Springs, Colorado Christian and Colorado School of Mines, just needed one win to assure being at least tied with for eighth place in the conference.
With Friday's win over Western State, which gives the Pack the season sweep over the Mountaineers, potentially puts the Pack in position to rise as high as 5th in the conference, which would send them to Mesa State in the first round of the RMAC tournament. If the Pack defeats Mesa State Saturday and Western State loses to New Mexico Highlands, the ThunderWolves will ascend to 5th place.