By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- JJ Lacey of George Fox University led all players with 35 points and hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final 32 seconds to lead the Bruins over the Bearcats, 88-83, on Friday, Jan. 13 at Cone Field House. Lacey's timely free throws stopped a comeback by Willamette after the Bearcats rallied from a 73-59 deficit with 5:48 remaining to pull within 83-79 with 44 seconds left.
The win improved GFU to 6-8 overall and to 4-1 in the Northwest Conference. Willamette dropped to 2-12 on the season, 0-5 in the NWC.
Willamette nearly caught up to the Bruins with a 20-10 run that began when Hayden Russell (Jr., W, Woodland, CA/Da Vinci Charter Academy) hit two free throws with 5:41 left. Trent Callan (So., G, Portland, OR/Lincoln HS) added a three-point play 26 seconds later on a layup and a foul shot, as the Bearcats cut the deficit to 73-64.
The Bearcats' string of unanswered points reached seven in a row after Jenkins and Russell each went 1 for 2 at the line. Mason Green-Richards of GFU put in a 3-pointer with 4:42 to go, giving the Bruins a 76-66 margin, but Russell answered with a 3-point basket for WU just 11 seconds later. A jumper by Dylan Critchfield (Jr., P, Broomfield, CO/Standley Lake HS) reduced the GFU lead to 76-71 with 3:44 remaining.
George Fox owned an 82-73 advantage following two free throws by Lacey with 1:42 on the clock, but WU scored six of the next seven points to slice the margin to 83-79 on a pair of free throws by Jordan Jenkins (So., F, Placentia, CA/Valencia HS) at the 44-second mark.
Lacey converted two free throws for GFU with 32 seconds to go. Jenkins put in a layup with 21 seconds remaining to reduce the lead to 85-81, but Lacey sank two more charity shots with 15 seconds left. Callan scored on a layup for the Bearcats as the clock reached nine seconds, but Lacey made 1 of 2 free throws two seconds later to clinch the win for the Bruins.
Joining Lacey in double figures for GFU were Green-Richards and Dylan Hamlett. Green-Richards registered 13 points and was 5 of 6 from the field, while Hamlett contributed 10 points. Lacey was 12 for 17 from the field and went 9 for 10 at the free throw line. He also produced five rebounds four assists and two steals.
Russell topped Willamette with a career-high 22 points. Russell hit 12 of 16 free throws and made two 3-point shots. His previous high was 21 points against Portland Bible College on Dec. 30, 2016.
Nico Troplent (Jr., W, Los Angeles, CA/Cathedral HS) achieved a double-double with 11 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, improving on his previous best of 11 boards in consecutive games against Ripon College (Wis.) on Dec. 29, 2016 and versus Portland Bible one day later.
Jenkins tacked on 18 points for Willamette and was 7 for 8 from the field. Casey Thornton (Jr., F, Santa Rosa, CA/Maria Carrillo HS) and Critchfield each scored 10 points.
George Fox shot 50.0% from the field, as the Bruins hit 33 of 66 shots, including 5 of 18 (27.8%) from 3-point range. The Bruins connected on 17 of 22 free throws (77.3%).
Willamette finished the night at 47.5% on field goals (28 of 59), but made just 3 of 14 shots behind the arc. WU sank 24 of 36 free throws (66.7%), but hit just 7 of 13 (53.8%) in the first half, before making 17 of 23 in the second half (73.9%).
The Bearcats gained a sizeable 47-29 advantage on the boards, including a 14-4 margin on the offensive glass. Willamette committed 23 turnovers, which led to 30 points for GFU. The Bearcats scored 10 points on 12 turnovers by the Bruins.
WU shot out to a 9-2 advantage with 17:42 left in the first half. The early run by the Bearcats included four points by Troplent and ended with a jumper and a 3-pointer by Jenkins.
GFU tallied the next four points on layups by Hamlett and Green Richards. Willamette countered with a jumper by Troplent, a free throw by Russell and another jumper from Troplent to take a 14-6 lead at the 13:15 mark.
The Bearcats then went nearly four minutes without scoring, as George Fox put together a 14-0 run to take a 20-14 lead with 9:31 on the clock. The run included baskets by five different Bruins, including Lacey, who contributed a three-point play and a 3-point basket.
Critchfield placed Willamette back on the scoreboard by hitting a jumper with 9:17 remaining in the half. GFU responded with a 5-0 run for a 25-16 advantage. The Bearcats battled back with string of nine unanswered points to tie the game. Russell finished the run when he sank a pair of free throws with 5:02 to go.
Lacey put GFU back in front at 28-25 on a 3-pointer with 3:40 left. The Bruins held a slim 32-31 as the clock reached 1:54 folllowing a basket by Troplent, but GFU scored the final six points of the half for a 38-31 lead.
George Fox extended the margin 42-31 after Lacey scored on two jump shots to open the second half. Willamette battled back and eventually pulled within 49-48 when Brendon McCullough (Jr., G, San Antonio, TX/Home Schooled) hit a jumper, was fouled, and made the free throw with 13:10 remaining.
The Bruins used a 9-0 offensive surge to grab a 58-48 lead at the 10:26 mark. Green-Richards tallied the final five points of the run on a layup plus a traditional three-point play.
WU cut the margin to eight points twice, but the Bruins expanded the lead to 69-53 following a jumper by Thomas Rico with 7:14 left. GFU maintained a double-digit advantage until Willamette rallied to within four points in the closing minutes.
The Bearcats will be back in action right away, as they are schedule to take on Lewis & Clark College on Saturday (Jan. 14) in Portland, Oregon. Tipoff between Willamette and the Pioneers is set for 6 p.m. (PST).