by CWU Athletics
Junior guard Mark McLaughlin (Bothell, Wash./Inglemoor HS) led all scorers with 26 points, and the Central Washington University men's basketball team shot a season-best 57.6 percent, but the Wildcats dropped a see-saw battle to fifth-ranked Western Washington University, 86-85, on Thursday night at Carver Gym.
The Wildcats fell to 8-5 overall and 2-3 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, while Western Washington won its 19th consecutive game overall, improving to 13-0 this season (4-0 GNAC).
In a game that featured seven ties and 17 lead changes, it was the game's final lead change with two seconds remaining that decided the victor. After CWU senior Derrick Davis (Tacoma, Wash./Clover Park HS) had given the Wildcats an 85-84 lead with 7.9 seconds remaining, Western Washington's Paul Jones scored the game-winning basket on the Vikings' final possession.
Neither team ever seized full control of the contest, as the game's largest point differential was a six-point WWU edge in the first half. The Wildcats' largest lead of the game was a five-point margin in the second half -- going ahead by five for the first time at the end of a 6-0 run midway through the half. The game saw three tie scores in the final four minutes, with CWU knotting the score in the final minute on a basket by McLaughlin with 41 seconds left. The guard scored all six Wildcat points in three consecutive possessions in a span of 74 seconds.
The Wildcats had statistical advantages in shooting -- both overall and from three-point range. CWU shot 54.5 percent in the first half and a sizzling 61.5 percent after halftime to finish 34 of 59 for the game. Western Washington shot just 41.3 percent overall, and neither team was especially efficient from the perimeter, where the Wildcats made 4 of 14 (28.6 percent) and the Vikings were 5 of 20 (25.0 percent). CWU also won the turnover battle, committing just eight miscues while forcing 10, but a key difference in the game in WWU's favor was rebounding, where the hosts had a 43-25 edge including 23 offensive boards. The Vikings outscored the Wildcats in second-chance points, 25-0.
McLaughlin, the top scorer in the GNAC, upped his average slightly after making 10 of 15 shots and 6 of 6 at the free throw line. Senior Brandon Magee (Spanaway, Wash./Bethel HS) added 18 points and four assists while making 7 of 10 from the field, while Davis and senior Jordan Coby (Tacoma, Wash./Woodrow Wilson HS) also reached double digits with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Junior starters Chris Holmes (Seattle, Wash./Franklin HS) and Dom Williams (Tacoma, Wash./Curtis HS) scored nine and eight, respectively.
Western Washington saw five of its players score in double figures, led by 18 apiece from Jones and reserve Cameron Severson. Rico Wilkins scored 15 points off the Vikings' bench, while Austin Bragg had a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds for WWU.
CWU will remain on the road this Saturday night (Jan. 12), facing Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia at 7 p.m. The Wildcats return home next Thursday (Jan. 17) to take on Montana State University Billings at Nicholson Pavilion.