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Five players in double figures lift Western over Central on senior night

Vikings led by Kai Johnson’s game-high 25 points

By Mathew Callaghan Sports Intern

All five Western Washington University starters hit double-digit scoring and the Vikings came away with an 87-76 win on senior night Saturday, Feb. 24 at Carver Gymnasium. 

Led by junior guard Kai Johnson’s game-high 25 points, Western also got offensive output from senior forward Jonathan Ned with 12 points, junior forward Nic Welp had 13, junior guard Will Wilson contributed 13 and Tijan Saine poured in 10.  

Central junior forward Mitch Brizee led the Wildcats with 19 points, while senior guard Anjaylo Lloyd and freshman guard Bradley Swillie each had 13. 

Western’s three seniors, Ned, Issac Morrow and Darius Gary, were spotlighted before tipoff and recognized for their contributions to the program. 

Western’s Jonathan Ned throws down a two-handed dunk. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

“It’s a great feeling to be able to play this game, and just be able to compete as much as possible was so fun to me,” Morrow said. “The whole time I just had a smile on my face. This is my last game in Carver, so it was just great to play in.” 

The Vikings started the game looking to find the right shot and not the first one available. Johnson finished a couple of spin layups and Ned hit a 3-pointer to get things rolling early. But the fire and energy they started with seemed to dissipate as the first half dragged on. Central ran well in transition and dominated the glass, effectively eliminating Western’s early momentum and lead. 

Central sought to get layups from the low block and impose its strength inside, while Western’s shot selection was mostly an assortment of difficult off-balance shots. Central had multiple and-ones, which gave them a 38-32 lead at the half. 

Western’s Issac Morrow blocks a shot in the second half. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Western came out the locker room firing with Johnson attacking the rim with an and-one layup to begin the second-half action. Both teams began to play at a faster pace, highlighted by Central slamming home a pair of dunks. After falling on the floor and keeping his dribble alive, Tijan Saine hit a step-back 3-pointer followed by an and-one layup the next possession to tie the game up for Western. 

Western began to break Central’s full-court press, and a game that had hovered within a point for most of the second half grew to a 10-point Vikings lead with two minutes left to play. 

Central was forced to foul the rest of the way and Will Wilson iced the game with a pair from the charity stripe to secure the victory for Western. 

“We may or may not get in [to the playoffs],” head coach Tony Dominguez said. “But I like our chances. You just take what is given.”

Players on the bench yell and react after another made 3-pointer by Western. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

“If you sit and lull and go through what could have been or the negative of the situation, then your mind will take you down a bad path. I think that’s why I love this group of guys, because they don’t do that. They don’t allow themselves to get down into a deep hole, they pull themselves out.” 

The Vikings were coming off a home win over Northwest Nazarene on Thursday, Feb. 22, which had snapped a three-game losing streak that had put their postseason hopes in jeopardy. 

The Vikings (16-12, 8-9 Great Northwest Athletic Conference) are percentage points behind the sixth and final playoff spot in the GNAC playoffs. 

Western needs to beat Simon Fraser (6-22, 4-13 GNAC) in its regular-season finale at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 2 in Burnaby, British Columbia to keep its playoff hopes alive. 

“It was obviously a must-win as we make this last playoff push,” Johnson said. 

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