The Vikings’ men’s basketball team began Great Northwest Athletic Conference play on Thursday night, Dec. 3, and what unfolded was an electric home opener.
The game saw multiple lead changes. Both teams traded a 10-point lead and Western, as the GNAC pre-season favorite, was tested by a rebuilding Saint Martin’s squad.
With eight minutes left in the first half, Saint Martin’s led 22-12. Head Coach Tony Dominguez was able to rally his players and the Vikings bounced back and headed into the locker room at halftime holding a 34-32 lead.
“Defensively we played much better in the last 10 minutes of the first half,” Dominguez said. “That’s what turned the tide and obviously we hit a couple of shots at the end.”
The second half was much closer. Western held the lead until Saint Martin’s tied it up with an open three at 39-39. The Vikings took back the lead with seven minutes left, up 58-48.
“We built up the lead and I think with about a minute and a half we just kind of fell asleep. And they hit three threes which was the exact opposite of what we told them in the timeout,” Dominguez said.
In the final minutes, the Saints would outscore the Vikings 20-13. In that time, the team would knock down three back-to-back three-pointers.
“We had three lapses in a row where we didn’t switch the screens and they hit three threes in a row and that made the game close,” senior guard and captain Ricardo Maxwell said.
With just under a minute to go, Western led 69-67.
The Saint’s point guard drove through an open lane and threw up a shot. It was rebounded by senior guard Kyle Impero. He was fouled and made both his free throws, putting Western ahead 71-67.
Saint Martin’s guard Cole Preston dribbled down the court and was fouled on the shot. He made the first free throw and missed the second. Still the Vikings were up 71-68.
Senior forward Colby Mitchell rebounded the ball and was also fouled. He missed both shots, which gave the Saints 11.9 seconds to dribble the length of the court and fire off a three-pointer.
The shooter missed as the buzzer sounded.
The Vikings won the game 71-68. Impero lead all scorers with 16 points and nine rebounds while junior forward Jeffrey Parker had 14 points, Maxwell finished with 12 points and senior center Mac Johnson added 11 points.
Western shot 22.5 percent from beyond the arc, a considerably lower shooting percentage than most of the team’s games.
“For everyone, our percentages were down and we don’t usually shoot that bad and so it was kind of nice that we still came away with the win knowing that we didn’t play our best,” Impero said.
From the bench, injured sophomore forward Evan Scholten shared his thoughts on the game.
“It was a great team win. We didn’t come out hot but came together as a team, fighting through that adversity,” Scholten said. “I think it showed resilience on our part and it’s something we can definitely build off of. A wins a win. Starting off conference play with a win, we are going to keep rolling from here.”
The Vikings host Seattle Pacific University at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5, at Whatcom Community College.