Western men advance to national semifinals

  • Herald news services
  • Wednesday, March 21, 2012 3:51pm
  • SportsSports

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — The Western Washington Vikings overcame a six-minute scoring drought to open the game and rallied to beat Midwestern State 64-63 Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II men’s basketball tournament.

Western (29-5) faces Stonehill College (Mass.) at 4 p.m. Thursday in the semifinals. With Wednesday’s win, the Vikings set a team record for victories in a season and matched their deepest ever run in the national tournament. They also reached the semifinals in 2001.

Senior forward Rory Blanche led Western with 15 points, 13 of them in the second half.

“We’re pleased to be able to move on,” Western coach Brad Jackson said. “It was a very hard-fought game. We were rattled by their defense early on, but did much better in the second half.”

The Vikings got off to a terrible start, turning the ball over on four of their first six possessions and falling behind 16-2 after 10 minutes. Western’s only points in the opening 10 minutes came on a driving layin by Mountlake Terrace High School graduate John Allen at the 13:49 mark.

“They jumped on us,” Blanche said. “We were a little shell-shocked and flat-footed. But once we got into the flow of the game, we were able to make our run.”

The Vikings clawed their way back into the game by holding Midwestern State scoreless for four minutes. Western eventually tied the game 25-25 on a basket by Allen and went into halftime tied 27-27.

“We’ve been a composed team all year long and I didn’t sense any panic,” Jackson said of the slow start. “When we closed the gap at halftime, that was big for us.”

A layup by Western’s Paul Jones with 7:47 left in the game put the Vikings in front to stay, but they never led by more than five points. Western entered the final minute with a 64-60 edge, but a Michael Loyd 3-pointer with 41 seconds left cut the margin to one.

Western missed three free throws in the final nine seconds, the last two by Jones with 4.2 seconds left. MSU’s Kevin Grayer grabbed the rebound and dribbled the length of the floor, but did not get a shot off before time expired.

Jones came off the bench to contribute 12 points and a team-high nine rebounds for the Vikings. Allen scored 14 points and Richard Woodworth added 13 points and eight rebounds.

Midwestern State, located in Wichita Falls, Texas, had its seven-game winning streak snapped and finished its season 29-4.

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