LACEY, Wash. – Western Washington University’s quest for a Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship and an automatic berth in the NCAA Division II National Tournament fell just short, as the Vikings missed three potential go-ahead shots in the final 20 seconds and suffered a 65-62 loss to Seattle Pacific University in the title game of the fourth annual GNAC Men’s Basketball Tournament on Saturday at Marcus Pavilion on the campus of host Saint Martin’s University.
The loss drops the Vikings to 20-8 overall, and puts WWU, ranked No.7 in the West Region of NCAA II, on the bubble for a national tournament berth. The 64-team field is announced Sunday at 7:30 PDT on ncaa.com.
Seattle Pacific, ranked No.18 in the latest National Association of Basketball Coaches/NCAA Division II Top 25 Poll and No.4 in the region, improved to 26-5 with its 15th victory in the last 16 games. The Falcons, who also won the GNAC regular-season title, defeated WWU for the third time this season as guard David Downs scored 19 of his game-high 26 points in the second half.
Downs was named the tourney MVP for the second straight year.
The Vikings trailed by six with under three minutes left. Joey Schreiber (R-Fr., Renton/Eastside Catholic) hit a layin and free throw, then Austin Bragg (Sr., Longview/Mark Morris) scored on a putback, cutting the gap to one, 63-62, with 1:14 left.
WWU then forced a long 3-point miss by Patrick Simon with the shot clock running down, and Bragg, who had team-highs of 20 points and eight rebounds, grabbed the carom with 37 seconds left, giving the Vikings a chance for the lead.
But Bragg missed a shot in the paint, Colby Mitchell (Jr., Chugiak, AK) missed a putback, and after the ball was knocked out of bounds with 12 seconds left, Richard Woodworth (Sr., Bellevue/Newport) drove from the right side but missed a scoop shot. Matt Borton rebounded for SPU and made two free throws with 3.7 seconds left for the final margin, and the Vikings’ long pass attempt to set up a tying 3-pointer did not connect.
“We played an outstanding game and it came down to the last possession,” said WWU coach Tony Dominguez. “We had three good shots, and we missed them. Normally we make those and we’d be celebrating.”
Forward Jeffrey Parker (R-Fr., Richmond, CA/Salesian) had 14 points for the Vikings and guard Robert Harris, Jr., (Sr., Kent/Rainier Beach) added 11.
WWU’s chances of reaching the eight-team West Regional were hurt by results in two other conference championships. Chaminade, unranked in the region, defeated No.8 Dominican in the PacWest championship, 99-83, to earn an automatic berth, as did No.9 Cal State Stanislaus, which beat No.6 Chico State, 82-70, in the California Collegiate Athletic Association title game. That means the Vikings would likely have to move past Chico State to get a tournament spot.
“We’ll wait for the NCAA selection show and see what happens,” said Dominguez. “I love this team and I’d love for us to have a chance to show what we can do. We hope our strength of schedule can get us in, but if not, it’s been a great ride.”
WWU led 12-4 after the first seven minutes as the Falcons made just one of their first nine field goal attempts. That was the biggest lead by either team during the period, the Vikings holding a three-point lead, 29-26, at halftime as Parker had 12 points.
The Vikings held a 40-32 lead a little over four minutes into the second half, but SPU went on a 16-3 run to take a 48-43 lead with 10:29 to play. The Falcons never trailed again, opening up a 57-48 advantage on a Downs’ 3-pointer with 6:48 remaining.
It was the second straight year that WWU met SPU in the GNAC title contest. The Falcons won 72-70 in 2013 on a 28-foot 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds left.
WWU is now 2-4 in GNAC tournament play, but the four losses have been by total of 11 points, none by more than four.
WWU, the No.2 seed, reached the final with a 73-52 semifinal win over Alaska Fairbanks on Thursday. SPU, the No.1 seed, defeated Western Oregon, 73-57, in the other semifinal.