The Vikings had a chance, with another league game enveloped in late-game drama, to snag a momentum-boosting win heading into the second half of Great Northwest Athletic Conference play.
Instead, Western Washington suffered another heartbreaker.
WWU created the opportunity to knock off GNAC leading Western Oregon by dissolving a second-half, double-digit deficit, but the Vikings’ youth showed when poise was needed.
“I thought we had a good chance,” WWU coach Tony Dominguez said. “They are a veteran team, and the last minute-and-a-half they performed and we got tight.”
The Vikings led by one with barely more than a minute to play, but a WOU layup to take the lead was followed by a missed WWU jumper, which was compounded by a costly turnover that ending up sending Western to a 90-87 loss Saturday, Jan. 24, at Carver Gym.
The loss snapped Western’s 14-game home winning streak, and voided a brilliant performance from guard Ricardo Maxwell.
Maxwell led the Vikings (10-9, 3-6 GNAC) with a game-high 31 points and five assists, but the junior never got his hands on the ball during WWU’s final two possessions.
Jaamon Echols scored 14 points, Jeffrey Parker had 13 and Mac Johnson added 12 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Anye Turner had four points and five blocks in 20 minutes of work.
The Vikings wouldn’t have been in a winning position, though, if it weren’t for a strong second-half comeback.
Western Oregon (16-3, 8-1 GNAC), which was led by Andy Avgi’s 21 points, shot 64.5 percent in the first half to build a 53-40 halftime edge.
But Western, spurred by Maxwell’s 19 second-half points, went on a 15-6 scoring run during the first 4:11 of the final 20 minutes, trimming the once large deficit to 59-55.
The run was aided by much improved defensive play. The Vikings did a better job rebounding and picking up the Wolves’ transition shooters, which benefitted from myriad first-half open looks.
“To be honest, this may have been one of our best games as a team,” Maxwell said. “It was great game. The second half we came together as a family. We were all clicking. There were a couple of little things we could do better that could put us over the top.”
Western took its first lead of the second half when Echols found Joey Schreiber for a 3-pointer with 5:14 to play, giving the Vikings a 77-74 advantage, and after a pair of WOU free throws, Maxwell buried a triple to extend the lead to 80-76.
Western held an 82-80 advantage with 2:26 to go, but the big blow came when Wolves guard Jordan Wiley drilled a 3, putting Western Oregon in front 83-82 with 1:49 left.
Two Maxwell free throws with 1:24 remaining gave the Vikings their final lead of the game.
“These guys are working really hard,” Dominguez said. “It’s not a lack of effort, focus or direction. It’s been hard to win the close ones. I’m really proud of these guys. They are a great group of kids, and they will see success. It’s just a matter of when.”
The loss marked the fifth time the Vikings have lost a league game by four or less points this season.