BELLINGHAM - Coach Tony Dominguez always tells Rico Wilkins, Anye Turner and Cameron Severson they'd be starters on most teams.
The trio breathed life into the Western men's basketball team when it needed it most.
If it wasn't for a Wilkins clutch 3-pointer with 2 minutes remaining and a steal with 17 seconds left with Western leading by one possession, No. 5-ranked WWU might have suffered its first loss of the year.
The Vikings overcame a sluggish start, losing a 14 point second-half lead and a late deficit to edge upset-minded Concordia University St. Paul 80-76 during the WWU/Chuck Randall Thanksgiving Classic on Friday, Nov. 23, at Carver Gym.
"It felt like we were kind of sleepwalking out there the whole game," Wilkins said. "We got the lead, then I felt we relaxed again once we got that lead up. It's kind of different not having our fans here to keep us hyped when you get the lead."
Slowly Concordia chipped away at WWU's 60-47 lead with 13:25 left in the contest. The Golden Bears went on a 25-10 run during the next 11 minutes to take a 72-70 lead, which set up a 3 from Wilkins from the left elbow to give Western a 1-point advantage.
Leading 76-74, Wilkins stripped Concordia's Terez VanPelt, who finished with a game-high 23 points, as he drove the lane for the game-tying bucket. Western's John Allen made four free throws down the stretch to sew up the win.
"I came and coach told me he needs to me to be very aggressive and lock down on defense, so that was my main thought process - to not let them score," Wilkins said.
Severson gave Western (4-0) its energy burst in the first half. The senior guard, who's seen an expanded role this season, scored nine of his 11 points in the first half and helped the Vikings overcome a slow start.
When Turner, Severson and Wilkins entered the game with 11:17 to go in the first half, Western trailed 17-12. When Turner left with 3:43 to go until halftime, WWU held a 35-29 advantage.
Severson scored all of his nine first-half points in the span, and grabbed some key rebounds, as well.
"I'm getting a lot more minutes this year," Severson said. "I got a lot bigger role on the team, and I love that. I love being able to contribute more. I'm kind of an energy guy, do whatever, play defense, rebound and get shots when I'm open. When me, Rico and Anye come in, we just try to bring that energy."
They provided a much needed, heaping load of energy after Concordia seemed to have Western flustered in the opening minutes.
Severson, Turner and Wilkins were the only players to log minutes off Western's bench. They combined for 20 points, 11 rebounds and Wilkins essentially made the game-winning steal.
The Vikings led 44-33 at the break and picked up their level of play, extending the lead to 14 points with 16:08 to go.
But Concordia's Isaiah Thomas was 4 for 4 from the 3-point line in the second half and helped the Golden Bears overcome their deficit. VanPelt also was key in helping Concordia grab a late lead.
"It's mainly what we weren't doing," said Wilkins on how Concordia was able to come back. "Our main game plan every game is to deny 3s, and that basically is how they got back in it. They were hitting 3s all over."
Allen led Western with 20 points, Richard Woodworth scored 13, and Austin Bragg and Severson had 11. Chris Mitchell narrowly missed a double double with nine points and 11 rebounds.
The Vikings face Southwest Baptist in the finale of the WWU/Chuck Randall Classic at 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, at Carver Gym.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
WESTERN WASHINGTON 80, CONCORDIA-ST.PAUL 76
VanPelt, Terez 23; Thomas, Isaiah 19; Olstad, Cole 12; Mabbutt, Nick 11; Steinbauer, Taylor 4; Smith, Cordell 3; Mandli, Shea 2; Lewis, DJ 2; Yahnke, Mike 0. Totals 28-61 10-16 76.
WESTERN WASHINGTON (4-0)
Allen,John 20; Woodworth,Richard 13; Bragg,Austin 11; Severson,Cameron 11; Mitchell,Chris 9; Jones,Paul 7; Wilkins,Rico 5; Turner,Anye 4. Totals 31-63 10-14 80.
Half: WWU 44, Concordia-St. Paul 33
3-point goals--Concordia-St.Paul 10-20 (Thomas, Isaiah 5), Western Washington 8-20 (Woodworth,Richard 3). Fouled out--Concordia-St.Paul-Mabbutt, Nick, Western Washington-None. Rebounds--Concordia-St.Paul 31 (Mandli, Shea 7), Western Washington 39 (Mitchell,Chris 11). Assists--Concordia-St.Paul 14 (VanPelt, Terez 6), Western Washington 8 (Woodworth,Richard 4). Total fouls--Concordia-St.Paul 13, Western Washington 13. Technical fouls--Concordia-St.Paul-None, Western Washington-None. A-597