By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
EUGENE, Ore. -- Willamette University will start the 2017-18 men's basketball regular season on Saturday, Nov. 18 by taking on Northwest Christian University at the Morse Events Center. Game time is set for 8 p.m. (PST).
The Bearcats have 13 returning players, including Jordan Jenkins (Jr., F, Placentia, CA/Valencia HS), who led the team in scoring last season. Jenkins shot 50.3% from the field (87 of 173) and averaged 10.6 points per game. He shot from outside, scoring 13 three-point baskets, or post-up in the paint, or drove to the hoop. He ranked second on the team with 5.0 rebounds per game. He ranked first on the team with 68 free throws made.
Nico Troplent (Sr., W, Los Angeles, CA/Cathedral HS), who topped the Bearcats with 5.3 rebounds per game last year, also returns. Troplent averaged 8.4 points per contest and shot 73.1% at the free throw line (57 of 78). Casey Thornton (Jr., F, Santa Rosa, CA/Maria Carrillo HS) is back after averaging 7.0 points per game. He sank 16 of 20 free throws (80.0%).
Brendon McCullough (Jr., G, San Antonio, TX/Home Schooled) and Trent Callan (Jr., G, Portland, OR/Lincoln HS) also provided key plays for the Bearcats a year ago. McCullough averaged 6.2 points, while playing in 21 games (11 starts). Callan contributed 5.5 points per game and saw action in all 25 games (17 starts).
Willamette battled to overcome injuries at the post last year. Dylan Critchfield (Jr., P, Broomfield, CO/Standley Lake HS) played in just 19 of 25 games and made only eight starts. CJ Walker (Jr., P, Placentia, CA/Mayfair HS) saw action in all 25 games, but had just five starts. Jameson Willems (Jr./So., F, Billings, MT/Skyview HS) provided depth at the post when he could, but injuries limited him to eight games and one start.
The Bearcats finished the 2016-17 season with a 4-21 record and went 2-14 in the Northwest Conference. The players look for better overall results this season, especially if the frontcourt stays healthy.
Troplent and McCullough give the Bearcats lots of experience in the backcourt. Troplent has played in 74 games with 64 starts, while McCullough has seen action in 71 games and made 58 starts. Both players have an outside shot at reaching the 1,000-point mark. Troplent enters the season with 688 career points. McCullough has scored 656 career points. The bookend guards already have scored a combined 1,344 points for Willamette.
Northwest Christian enters Saturday's game with 10 returning players from a year ago, but the top three scorers are not back. Gone are Jay Mayernik with 15.7 points per game, Jack Hackman with 12.6 points per contest, and Brendyn Taylor with 12.5 points per game.
In last year's 68-64 win for the Beacons over the Bearcats, Mayernik tallied 15 points and Taylor added 13 points. Troplent scored 18 points for the Bearcats.
Although the top three scorers are not returning for NCU, Kenny Blackwell returns. He averaged 13.4 ponts per game and ranked second on the team with 44 three-point baskets. Micheal Loomis also returns after producing 9.1 points per game. Loomis and Blackwell were strong at the free throw line, with Loomis shooting 87.8% (36 of 41) and Blackwell hitting 83.7% (87 of 104). It will be difficult to replace Mayernik's free throw contributions. despite shooting only 62.8%, he led the team with 157 free throws made and 250 attempts.
Northwest Christian is 2-0. The Beacons defeated Northwest Indian College (Wash.), 113-69, on Oct. 14 and downed New Hope Christian College (Ore.), 115-73, on Oct. 17.
Following Saturday's game, the Bearcats will be off for several days before traveling to Santa Cruz, California, to compete in the Santa Cruz Thanksgiving Classic. The Bearcats will battle the hosts from University of California, Santa Cruz on Saturday, Nov. 25 at 3 p.m. (PST). WU will take on University of La Verne (Calif.) on Sunday, Nov. 26, also at 3 p.m.