WWU defeats Midwestern State, 64-63, in Elite Eight quarterfinals

WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM Rory Blanche
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM
Rory Blanche
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM

March 21, 2012

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - Western Washington University overcame going scoreless for more than six minutes to start the game and rallied for a 64-63 victory over Midwestern State University in a quarterfinal round game of the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Elite Eight on Wednesday 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 29-5 with the triumph and advance to face Stonehill College, Mass., in the national semifinals at 4 p.m. PDT Thursday. It matches Western's deepest ever run in the national tournament, as it also reached the semifinals in 2001.

Forward Rory Blanche (Sr., Ashland, OR) led WWU with 15 points, 13 of them in the second half.

Midwestern State, located in Wichita Falls, Texas, ranked No.5 in the final national poll, had a seven-game winning streak snapped and concluded its season 29-4. The Mustangs, who were making their third consecutive Elite Eight appearance, were led by forward David Terrell, who came off the bench to score a game-high 21 points.

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

A layup by Paul Jones (Jr., Kent/Kent-Meridian) with 7:47 left put the Vikings in front to stay, but Western never led by more than five points. The Vikings 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 was able to grab a pair of offensive rebounds, but 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. Guard John Allen (Jr., Brier/Mountlake Terrace) had 14 points, and guard Richard Woodworth (So., Bellevue/Newport) added 13 points and eight rebounds.

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 Allen at the 13:49 mark.

The WWU defense then stiffened, holding Midwestern State scoreless for more than four minutes, and the Vikings pulled within four, 16-12, on an Allen pullup jumper that capped a 10-0 run with 5:54 remaining in the half.

"They jumped on us," said Blanche, who finished 6-of-9 from the floor. "We were a little shell shocked and flatfooted. But once we got into the flow of the game, we were able to make our run."

The Vikings eventually tied the game at 25-25 on an Allen basket, and went into the half tied at 27-27 as Woodworth, who had seven points in the last 4:19 of the period, scored on a leaping putback.

"We have a lot of weapons on our team, I just got the opportunity and took advantage of it," said Woodworth, who missed all of the 2010-11 season with a broken wrist. "We were flat to start out and I decided to be more aggressive."

"We've been a composed team all year long and I didn't sense any panic," said Jackson. "When we closed the gap at halftime, that was big for us." Western set a school record for victories in a single season with its 29th triumph of the campaign. The Vikings are now 6-1 against teams ranked in the Top 25.

Despite hitting just one of its first 10 shots from the field, WWU ended up outshooting MSU from the field, hitting 45.3 percent (24-of-53) to just 40.7 (24-of-59).

Blanche, who had nine of his points in the first six minutes of the second half, extended his career scoring total to 1,248 points, just three short of a tie for 13th among WWU's career scoring leaders.

Stonehill, the champions of the East Region, reached the national semifinals with a 91-90 victory over No.3 West Liberty in the opening quarterfinal game.

By Tom Ramstetter

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - Western Washington rallied from an early 14-point deficit, shot 61 percent from the field in the second half, and slipped past Midwestern State 64-63 Wednesday afternoon in an NCAA Division II national quarterfinal game at Northern Kentucky University's Bank of Kentucky Center.

The Vikings will play Stonehill College, a 91-90 winner over West Liberty University Wednesday, in tonight's national semifinal at 6 p.m. at NKU.

Senior forward Rory Blanche hit a jump shot with less than eight minutes to play to give the Vikings the lead for good at 50-48 and junior guard Rico Wilkins followed with a 3-pointer from the right corner to give Western Washington its largest lead of the game, 53-48.

"We were able to get up a little bit and sustain that lead the rest of the game," Blanche said.

The three-time defending South Central region champion Mustangs cut the lead to one twice in the final two minutes, but the Vikings held on. Junior forward Kevin Grayer had a chance to drive for a winning bucket after rebounding the second of two missed free throws by Vikings junior forward Paul Jones, but Grayer never got a shot off before time expired.

The Vikings made 14 of 23 shots in the second half after hitting only 10 of 30 in the first half, but made only 12 of 25 free throws in the game.

"We were a little rattled by their defense early on," Western Washington head coach Brad Jackson said. "It took us awhile to adjust, but we shot the ball a lot better from the perimeter in the second half. We didn't shoot it very well from the free throw line. 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 beadvancing."

Midwestern State shot better from the field in the second half at 45 percent than it did in the first (36 percent), but could not keep Western Washington off the scoreboard.

"Our guys really competed," Midwestern State head coach Nelson Haggerty said. "I felt we started the game guarding really well. We got rebounds. We finished stops. We made some baskets underneath. As they started to get offensive rebounds on us, they really started to get their confidence and make some baskets."

Blanche led Western Washington with 15 points. Junior guard John Allen scored 14 and sophomore guard Richard Woodworth added a season-high 13 points to go with eight rebounds.

"We have a lot of weapons on our team," Woodworth said. "We have a lot of guys that score and do a lot of things. We're a real deep team. I feel like tonight, I saw an opportunity and took advantage of that opportunity. We were a little flat, I just thought start crashing the boards, start being a little more aggressive, get the team going a little bit. It was just one of those nights that it was my night."

It wasn't the Vikings' day early on.

Midwestern State opened the game with an 11-0 run as Western Washington struggled to make shots. The Vikings started went 1-for-8 from the field and had only one offensive rebound.

"We just made a couple of substitutions just to change things up a bit and see if wecould get going, trying to get guys to relax," Jackson said. "We knew that we weren't playing as we could and we certainly weren't shooting as we could. 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."

TheVikings finally righted themselves and scored seven straight points to pullwithin 16-12 before eventually tying the game at 27-27 at the final buzzer of the first half on a put-back by Blanche.

"They were playing really good defense in the first half," Blanche said. "They have some really big, physical forwards down low. Hats off to them, they came out with a lot of intensity. After that we were able to get our feet underneath us in the first half. I told the team it was time to make our run."

TheVikings scored on their final four possessions of the first half, then tooktheir first lead of the game on a Woodworth jumper to start the second half.

"When we started to make a run, when we closed the gap at halftime, that was really big for us," Jackson said.

"I didn't think we executed very well in the first half. In the second half we started to loosen up and were able to move the ball better. I felt like the second part of the game we started running things and got a mixture of shots that helped us a great deal."

Senior forward David Terrell led all scorers with 21 points for the Mustangs, most in the paint as Midwestern State held a 38-20 advantage down low. But it wasn't enough.

"In the second half, we just couldn't keep those guys out of the paint for some reason," Haggerty said. "They were able to get second-chance shots. A team in the second half shooting 61 percent from the field and 43 percent from three, that's not something we're used to. I think that was the game."

Next up for the Vikings is Stonehill, who rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit Wednesday.

"They have really good balance, they pay really good defense," Jackson said. "There's a lot of hustle on that team. It will be a very interesting matchup between two ball clubs."

Western Washington men win, advance to NCAA II Final Four

Vikings overcome slow start against Midwestern State, winning 64-63.

By Terry Boehmker, 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.