Forward Paul Jones (Sr., Kent/Kent-Meridian) hit a layup with 2.2 seconds to go, lifting nationally ranked Western Washington University to a dramatic 86-85 victory over archrival Central Washington University in a men's basketball contest Thursday at Sam Carver Gymnasium on the WWU campus.
The contest was played before a sellout crowd of 2,320 and was televised regionally on ROOT Sports.
The defending NCAA Division II national champion Vikings, ranked No.5 in this week's National Association of Basketball Coaches Top 25 Poll, stayed unbeaten at 13-0 overall and 4-0 in GNAC action, moving into sole possession of first place in the conference. They have won 19 straight games, setting a new GNAC record, and the start and streak are both the second best in WWU history.
Jones had 18 points, and Cameron Severson (Sr., Petersburg, AK) and Rico Wilkins (Sr., Dallas, TX/DeSoto) each came off the bench to contribute 18 and 15 points, respectively.
Mark McLaughlin had a game-high 26 points for Central, which fell to 8-5 overall and 2-3 in league play. The Wildcats, who fell despite shooting 57.6 percent (34-of-59) from the field, have lost four of their last seven games following a 5-1 start.
The game featured 17 lead changes and seven ties. McLaughlin forced the final tie, hitting a fallaway jumper to even the score at 84-84 with 41 seconds left. After Wilkins missed a jump shot at the other end, Central's Derrick Davis was fouled in the battle for the rebound with 7.7 left, and made the second of two free throws to give the Wildcats a one-point lead.
But following a time out, the Vikings inbounded the ball to Wilkins, who raced up the right sideline, then cut inside to the foul line, feeding Jones, who cut along the left baseline for the game winning layup. Davis then had a shot to win for the Wildcats, but missed from 14 feet as time expired.
John Allen (Sr., Brier/Mountlake Terrace) had 11 points and Chris Mitchell (Sr., Everson/Nooksack Valley) added 10 for WWU, which shot only 41.3 percent (31-of-75) from the field, but had a 43-25 advantage in rebounds, with Mitchell and Austin Bragg (Jr., Longview/Mark Morris) each getting 10 and Jones eight.
WWU, which is one of six unbeaten teams in NCAA II, extended its home winning streak to 16, also second in school history, and 6-0 this season.
WWU has won eight of of the last 10 series meetings, and 14 of last 15 encounters with Wildcats at Carver Gym.
WWU plays host to Northwest Nazarene on Saturday (7:30 p.m.), Jan. 12 in a GNAC counter.