BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
A three-point shot that Western Washington University men's basketball fans still agonize over came in the final seconds of regulation play against Oklahoma Baptist University in the first round of the NAIA Division I National Tournament on March 15, 1994, at the Mabee Center in Tulsa, Okla.
As time expired with the Vikings ahead by three after overcoming a 16-point second-half deficit, OBU's Robbie Powell took a pass deep on the left wing and with a hand in his face elevated from approximately 25 feet. As the ball descended toward the hoop, the horn sounded.
Splash! The game was tied at 87-all and going into overtime. The shot looked even longer if you were in the front row seats looking up at the elevated floor like I was.
Unbridled jubilation for OBU, disbelief for WWU, which eventually lost, 101-93.
And the question that will forever linger is: "How far could the Vikings have gone had they not suffered that heart-breaking loss?" A win would have advanced them to the second round against No.1-ranked Georgetown College, which had posted a narrow 74-66 win over unseeded Rocky Mountain College earlier in the day.
Western, which finished 24-7 and ranked No.17 in the final national poll, had qualified for nationals by winning the Pacific Northwest Region 1 championship.
"The thing that's most disappointing is we don't get to keep playing," said WWU coach Brad Jackson following the game. "I was looking forward to facing Georgetown."
Jackson was completing the ninth of a 27-year tenure at WWU that produced 518 victories.
OBU, the 1992-93 national runner-up, advanced to the semifinals. The Vikings had trailed OBU by 16 points with 14 minutes left. But they rallied to take a five-point lead, 82-77, with 40 seconds remaining in regulation, "sixth man" senior guard Joel Duchesne leading the charge.
As this was the last contest of the opening-day that featured eight games, and the time being well past midnight, the NAIA officials in the media room were already putting up WWU as the advancing team on the bracket.
But while WWU was making 5-of-6 free throws, OBU hit a free throw and three 3-pointers to send the game into an extra period and eventually got the victory.
Jackson felt his squad could compete with any team at the tournament.
"It was very frustrating watching the rest of the tournament. I feel we could have at least gotten to the quarterfinals and with a little luck could have won the whole thing."
The Vikings dominated the PNW Region 1, winning the regular-season title by four games with an 11-1 record. Seeded No.1 in the playoffs, they beat Seattle U., 84-76, in the semifinals, and defeated Lewis-Clark State ID, 88-71, in the final.
Senior 6-foot guard Dwayne Kirkley, a third-team NAIA All-American and PNW Region 1 Player of the Year, had one of the greatest seasons ever by a Viking player. He averaged 20.4 points, becoming only the fourth WWU player to average 20 or more and the first since 1979; 6.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.2 steals. His steal total of 99 was a school record and he fell only nine points (631) and five assists (187) short of WWU season marks in those two categories.
"He was certainly one of the most exciting players ever to play at Western," Jackson said. "He had that ability to come up with the spectacular play."
"Dwayne also did an excellent job of blending his abilities into the team's needs. He got a lot of attention, but was always very humble and conscious of his teammates."
Kirkley came to WWU after sitting out a year to pursue a career in Los Angeles as a performer in a rap group.
The transition back to basketball proved difficult as Kirkley struggled during his junior season.
But that off-season, he worked hard on his game, especially his outside shooting, raising his field-goal percentage by 10 points to nearly 50 percent and his 3-point accuracy by 14 points to 35 percent.
"Basically, he's unstoppable," said junior forward Harold Doyal at the time. "Last year, teams knew you could play off of him and make him shoot the jumper. Now, he hits that shot."
While Kirkley's ball-hawking thievery, needle-threading passes and acrobatic dunks became spellbinding, another memorable part was his hair, best described by writer Scott Sandsberry as a "black mushroom cloud of dreadlocks."
After games, fans would surround him to touch the celebrated hair. And no Viking player had more nicknames. Among them were Hair Apparent, Hair Kirkley, Spidey, Special K, Captain Kirk-ley, Berzirkley and Dwayne Man.
Kirkley, who was inducted into the WWU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010, became only the second two-year player in school history to score 1,000 career points, finishing with 1,008.
Another standout senior guard that season was Jeff Dick, a region all-star who averaged 14.0 points and 4.7 assists. He finished with school career-high totals in 3-point field goals made (234), free throws made (373) and assists (447), and finished second in points (1,465) and steals (275).
Also receiving regional all-star honors was the 6-9 Doyal, who averaged 14.2 points and 5.7 rebounds.
Recalling that national overtime loss, Doyal said, "Everyone on the bench was jumping up and holding hands. We were right there."
"I think that it was probably the one time in my entire career playing basketball that we were definitely just one team ... We were there. Nobody cared about who was going to score, what was going to happen, we just cared about winning that game. And we definitely should have.
We definitely should have gone to the second round. If we had done that, I know we would have gone further."
"The team just found a way to get it done," said Jackson. "They not only knew they could win, but also were determined that they would.
"The biggest thing about this group was how they played together. They truly enjoyed each other and encouraged one another. They really had an understanding of team and their roles within it."
By Paul Madison who served 48 years as sports information director at WWU from 1966 to 2015
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