Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director
SALEM, Ore. -- In the continuation of a long-standing Northwest Conference rivalry, Willamette University defeated Linfield College, 70-68, at Cone Field House on Saturday, Jan. 9. The Bearcats led for much of the game, but Linfield rallied before WU scored the go-ahead points on two free throws by Nico Troplent (So., W, Los Angeles, CA/Cathedral HS) with 31 seconds left.
Willamette held a 35-28 lead at halftime after closing the half with a 9-0 run. The Bearcats extended the margin to 52-36 with 10:15 remaining in the game following a 3-pointer by Troplent.
Linfield rallied with a 22-8 run and cut the lead to 60-58 on a pair of free throws by Vince Romeo with 5:26 to go. The run included four 3-point baskets.
The Wildcats pulled within a single point at 62-61 with 4:07 left on a layup and foul shot by Kyle Maloof. Linfield trailed by one point two more times before taking a 67-66 lead on a layup by Maloof with 43 seconds left.
Troplent was fouled 12 seconds later on Willamette's next possession. He sank both free throws, putting the Bearcats back in front, 68-67.
As the clock reached 20 seconds, Troplent stole the ball from Daul and was fouled a second later by Kevin Hurley. Troplent hit the first free throw and missed the second, leaving the Bearcats with a 69-67 advantage.
In the closing seconds, Maloof drove toward the basket for Linfield and was fouled with 2.3 seconds to go. His first attempt bounced off the rim. He made the second shot, reducing WU's lead to 69-68.
The missed free throw was the only unsuccessful attempt for the Wildcats at the charity stripe in the second half, as they hit 14 of 15 shots. For the game, Linfield went 20 for 23 (87.0%) at the free throw line.
Brendon McCullough (So., G, San Antonio, TX/Home Schooled) of Willamette was fouled with 1.8 seconds remaining. McCullough missed the first free throw, but made the second. Romeo missed a half-court shot for Linfield as time expired.
Hayden Russell (Jr., W, Woodland, CA/Da Vinci Charter Academy) was WU's top scorer with 13 points. He made 3 of 6 three-point shots. McCullough chipped in 12 points, while making 10 of 12 free throws. Troplent ended the night with 11 points and five rebounds.
Brandon Luedtke (Sr., F, Meridian, ID/Mountain View HS) contributed six points, a team-high eight rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals for the Bearcats. Alex Brown (Sr., F, Happy Valley, OR/Clackamas HS) scored nine points and grabbed six boards.
Romeo of Linfield led all scorers with 18 points. He was 8 for at the free throw line and achieved three steals. Maloof added 15 points and hauled down seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Daul added 10 points, while Mason Rodby snagged a game-high 11 boards.
There were four ties and eight lead changes in the first half. The Bearcats earned the game's first two-possession advantage at 12-8 following a pair of free throws by Russell with 12:37 remaining. Linfeld used a 7-1 run to gather in a 15-12 lead after Austin Daniels scored on a layup at the 10:05 mark.
Willamette tallied the next eight points to move in front 20-15. Nathan Sherfey (So., W, Chehalis, WA/W.F. West HS) ended the run with a 3-pointer assisted by Luedtke.
The Wildcats tied the game at 26-26 on a layup by Austin Murray and took a 28-26 lead on a layup by Hurley with 2:35 left in the half. Willamette's ensuing 9-0 run put the Bearcats up by seven points at the break.
A scoring drought by Linfield helped the Bearcats extend their lead in the second half. After pulling within 41-36 on a layup by Austin Daniels with 16:20 left, the Wildcats did not score again until Romeo sank a 3-pointer with 10:00 on the clock.
Meanwhile, the Bearcats scored 11 unanswered points with five players contributing to the run. The final six points were recorded on 3-pointers by Russell and Troplent.
Linfield's rally ensued as the Wildcats got back in the game. The 22-8 surge to pull within two points included 4-for-4 success from 3-point range and 8-for-8 shooting at the free throw line.
For the game, the Bearcats shot 40.0% from the field (18 of 45) and made 8 of 19 three-pointers (42.1%). WU converted 26 of 38 free throws (68.4%). Linfield was 21 of 51 on field goals (41.2%), including 6 of 22 on 3-point shots (27.3%).
Willamette will take on Whitworth University on Friday, Jan. 15. Game time is set for 8 p.m. (PST) against the Pirates, who are undefeated at 12-0 and are ranked #2 in NCAA Division III by D3hoops.com.