Herald news services
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Western Washington University opened up a 20-point lead then survived a late rally to defeat Stonehill College 71-66 in a semifinal game of the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Elite Eight on Thursday at The Bank of Kentucky Center on the campus of host Northern Kentucky University.
The Vikings, ranked No.12 in the latest National Association of Basketball Coaches/NCAA II Top 25 Poll, improved to 30-5 and advance to their first-ever national championship game, facing No. 22 Montevallo, Ala., on Saturday at 10 a.m. PDT. Saturday’s championship will be televised on CBS.
Forward Rory Blanche led Western with 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting, and John Allen, a Mountlake Terrace grad, added 13.
Stonehill, based in Easton, Mass., had a 10-game winning streak snapped and completed its season 25-9. Guard Brian Hamor led the Skyhawks with a game-high 22 points, and forward Patrick Lee added 14.
Western led 47-27 with a little over 13 minutes to play, but Stonehill went on a 19-5 run to close the margin to six with 5:32 remaining.
The Vikings’ lead was never more than nine after that, and eventually shrank to four three times in the last 1:23, the last time at 65-61 on two free throws by Hamor with 38 seconds remaining.
But Western was able to convert from the foul line, knocking down 8-of-10 free throws in the final 46 seconds. Allen was 4-of-4 in that stretch.
“This is a dream come true for us,” said Blanche, who moved into 13th in Western career scoring with 1,264 points. “At the end, we were able to execute. John Allen has been great in that situation all season.”
Guard Richard Woodworth had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Vikings, and forward Zach Henifin added 10 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, helping Western establish a 39-29 advantage on the boards.
“Zach had a great game,” said Western coach Brad Jackson. “He was a real catalyst for us. He has been the guts of our team with his quiet leadership.”
Stonehill opened up an 11-4 lead less than six minutes into the game, but the Vikings took control of the contest by holding the Skyhawks scoreless for more than six minutes, running off 16 consecutive points to take a 20-11 lead with 8:27 remaining in the first half. Six different Western players scored in the run, which helped the Vikings to a 32-22 lead at halftime.
“I was pleased with how we started the game and how we stretched out the lead in the second half,” said Jackson. “In the second half, we got a little tired and Stonehill made a nice run at us.”
Western held the Skyhawks to 40.4 percent (23-of-57) shooting, including 30.8 percent (8-of-26) in the first half.
“I think our guys have been working hard on defense the entire season, but we’ve really stepped it up the last four games,” Jackson said.
The Vikings, the champions of the West Region, reached the semifinal with a 64-63 quarterfinal triumph over Midwestern State.