Western Washington men win, advance to NCAA II Final Four
Vikings overcome slow start against Midwestern State, winning 64-63.
Special to The Seattle Times
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Western Washington coach Brad Jackson wasn't worried when his Vikings fell behind 11-0 in the opening minutes of Wednesday's quarterfinal game in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight playoffs at Northern Kentucky University.
"We knew that we weren't playing as we could and we certainly weren't shooting as we could," Jackson said. "Most of the year we've been a team that has pretty good composure, and I really didn't sense a lot of panic on our players' part. They just felt like it was a matter of time."
The Vikings rallied to tie the score at halftime and shot 61 percent (14 of 23) from the field in the second half to get past Midwestern State of Wichita Falls, Texas, 64-63.
WWU (29-5), which set a team record for wins in a season, meets Stonehill (Mass.) College in the semifinals at 4 p.m. PDT Thursday. Stonehill (25-8) defeated West Liberty (W. Va.), 91-90.
Jackson said he watched only one half of Stonehill's quarterfinal, but was impressed.
"They have really good balance. They play really good defense," Jackson said. "There's a lot of hustle on that team. It will be a very interesting matchup."
WWU took a 64-60 lead against Midwestern State on John Allen's layup with 1 minute left. But Michael Loyd's three-pointer with 41 seconds remaining left the Texas school down only 64-63.
The Vikings had several late trips to the foul line but missed three free throws in the final seconds.
After their last miss, with 4 seconds left, Midwestern State guard Kevin Grayer grabbed the rebound and raced to the other end, but couldn't get off a shot before the buzzer.
"We didn't shoot it very well from the free-throw line," Jackson said. "We'd like to think we can do a little better there, but at this point you take them any way that you can and we're pleased to be advancing."
Midwestern State opened the game with an 11-0 run. In the first eight minutes, the Vikings were 1 of 8 from the field.
Western scored on its final four possessions of the half to tie it at 27-27. Junior guards Richard Woodworth and Allen scored nine points each before halftime for the Vikings.
"We were a little flat," Woodworth said of the slow start. "I just thought, 'Start crashing the boards, start being a little more aggressive, get the team going a little bit.' "
WWU took its first lead on a pair of free throws by Woodward and the Vikings shot 14 of 23 in the second half, including 3 of 7 on three-point attempts. Rory Blanche scored 13 of his team-high 15 after halftime for Western.
"We just couldn't keep those guys out of the paint" in the second half, said Midwestern State coach Nelson Haggerty. "They were able to get second-chance shots."
WWU shot 45.3 percent (24 of 53) to Midwestern State's 40.7 percent. David Terrell scored 21 for the Texas team.