Vikings junior guard Kai Johnson and senior forward Jonathan Ned combined for 52 points and Western Washington University men’s basketball earned a 92-83 home win against Alaska Anchorage on Thursday, Jan.18.
Johnson finished the game with 29 points, seven rebounds and four assists and Ned finished with 23 points. Both players played 34 minutes and took 15 shots, although Johnson ended the contest with eight more free throw attempts — sinking 7 of 10.
Western (11-6, 3-3 Great Northwest Athletic Conference) snapped a three-game losing skid with the win.
Vikings head coach Tony Dominguez said Alaska Anchorage operates methodically, passes well and has great shooters on their roster. Going into the game, the Vikings had specific schemes designed to limit the offensive capabilities of their opponent.
“Our key was the little things and just moving on to the next play,” Dominguez said.
Junior guard Will Wilson contributed 12 points and Louis Grante-Halliday did not miss a shot en route to scoring 15. When sophomore forward BJ Kolly suffered an injury early in the game, Grante-Halliday knew it was his time to step up.
“I think it’s just staying ready,” Grante-Halliday said. “BJ went down pretty early and I knew more minutes were going to be there [for me] today. I’ve just been locking in at practice, trusting my teammates and trusting the work I put in on the floor.”
For Alaska Anchorage (13-4, 3-3 GNAC), Tyson Gilbert had 25 points, Jaron Williams had 14 and Dillon Barrientos had 13. As a team, Alaska Anchorage shot 47.7% overall and 26.7% from 3-point range — both well below Western’s marks.
Alaska Anchorage was on a four-game win streak entering the game. Western shot 57.4% overall and an even 50% from 3-point land.
“I think last week taught us that we have a great team, but everybody’s good [in the league],” Dominguez said. “We can’t take a night off mentally. We can’t take a night off from diving on loose balls or playing tough defense.”
To start the game, Anchorage Alaska focused on attacking the paint and playing in passing lanes to force turnovers. Two big 3-pointers from Will Wilson and Kai Johnson narrowed the deficit to two points for the Vikings with eight minutes left in the first half.
Alaska Anchorage responded with consecutive mid-range buckets to build their lead. But a half-spin into a dunk for Nic Welp provided some momentum for the Vikings moving forward. A steal and dunk followed by a three-point play for Grante-Halliday inspired good defensive possessions on the other end.
Another pair of three-point plays for Ned and a huge corner 3-pointer resulted in a 42-35 lead for the Vikings going into halftime.
Senior forward Isaac Morrow scored the opening layup to start the second half. With no offensive response from Alaska Anchorage, a made layup from Ned forced Alaska to call for a timeout less than two minutes into the second half.
A few minutes later, the Vikings held their largest lead of the game at 18 points, 57-39.
A back-and-forth battle ensued as the two teams traded buckets. As Alaska Anchorage began to settle for more 3-pointers, the Vikings were able to take advantage and convert multiple fastbreak points at the rim.
A four-point play for Grante-Halliday served to increase the Vikings’ lead to 81-70 with 3 minutes left in the game.
Ultimately it was too little too late for Alaska Anchorage. A corner 3-pointer from Ned and game-sealing free throws from Johnson put a halt on any potential comeback.
Western’s next game will be at Carver gym against Alaska Fairbanks (3-10, 1-4 GNAC) at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 20.