By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications, (503) 370-6110
SALEM, Ore. -- Willamette University trailed 46-32 with 14:17 left in the game and 52-40 with 11:45 on the clock, but the Bearcats outscored Trinity University 35-14 the rest of the way to defeat the Tigers, 75-66, at Cone Field House on Friday, Dec. 29. Willamette improved to 6-4 on the season. Trinity also ended the game at 6-4.
Brendon McCullough (Sr., G, San Antonio, TX/Home Schooled) led Willamette with a career-high 25 points, while Nathan Sherfey (Sr., F, Chehalis, WA/W.F. West HS) added 18 points. Both players sank five 3-point shots, helping the Bearcats finish 12 of 24 from 3-poont range. Trent Callan (Jr., G, Portland, OR/Lincoln HS) scored 12 points.
"It was great to see two seniors step up their games when we needed them the most," Willamette Head Coach Kip Ioane said.
Danny Rivara tallied 12 points to lead Trinity. He also blocked a game-high three shots. Nylan Yancy and Isaiah Speck each scored 10 points for the Tigers.
Willamette started strong and held a 10-3 lead just under four minutes into the game. Callan and Sherfey each hit a 3-pointer during the run. A bit later, the Bearcats held a 21-16 lead following a layup by Dylan Critchfield (Sr., P, Broomfield, CO/Standley Lake HS) with 11:24 remaining in the half.
Trinity found increased offensive success over the remainder of the half, starting with a 5-0 run to tie the score at 21-21 on a pair of free throws by Rivara at the 9:32 mark. The five-point outburst started a 20-7 run for Trinity, as the Tigers built a 36-28 halftime lead. Rivara completed the run with a layup as time expired.
Jordan Jenkins (Jr., F, Placentia, CA/Valencia HS) of WU opened the second half with a layup, but Trinity countered with a 3-pointer by Jayden Holden and a 3-piontr by Brooks Mays for a 42-30 lead with 15:34 to go. The margin reached 14 points at 46-32 when Matthew Colliflower put through a layup with 14:17 remaining.
The Bearcats responded with an 8-0 run that included a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws by McCullough, plus a 3-point basket by Sherfey to pull within 46-40 with 12:21 left. Trinity earned the next six points, ending with a 3-pointer by Rivara at the 11:45 mark, to gain a 52-40 edge.
Willamette's final surge followed, starting with a 3-pointer from Sherfey with 11:17 left. Sherfey's trifecta began a 12-0 run that featured two more 3-pointers by Sherfey, including the tying basket for a 52-52 deadlock with 7:00 to play. Colliflower scored on a jumper for Trinity to give the Tigers their final lead at 54-52 with 6:43 remaining.
The basket by Colliflower was answered with a 12-0 run by the Bearcats, including seven points from McCullough, as Willamette's overall run expanded to 24-2. When the run finished on a layup by Nico Troplent (Sr., W, Los Angeles, CA/Cathedral HS) with 2:56 left, Willamette owned a 64-54 edge.
Trinity pulled as close as five points twice in the final minute, at 69-64 with 59 seconds remaining on a 3-pointer by Holden, and at 71-66 on two free throws by Matt Jones nine seconds later. In between, Callan sank two free throws for the Bearcats. McCullough hit two free throws with 47 seconds to go, giving Willamette a 73-66 advantage. Callan added the game's final two points at the line with 18 seconds on the clock.
In the final 11:45, Willamette hit nine of 13 field goal attempts (69.2%), including 5 of 7 shots from 3-point range (71.4%). The Bearcats made 12 of 14 free throws during that stretch, including 8 for 8 in the final 1:09.
The successful effort at the end of the game by Willamette also included strong rebounding and defensive play. Trinity was stymied on offense during WU's 24-2 run, with the Bearcats grabbing key rebounds. Jenkins added a clean block on a 12-foot shot by Isaiah Specks with 2:14 to go that would have pulled the Tigers within six points. Casey Thornton (Sr., W, Santa Rosa, CA/Maria Carrillo HS) hauled down the rebound.
For the game, WU claimed a 43-35 rebounding margin, including 23-13 in the second half. Thornton led the way with eight rebounds -- seven in the second half. Callan earned six rebounds, while Jenkins and McCulllugh each grabbed five boards. Jenkins also recorded seven assists and two steals. Troplent earned a game-high five steals. Specks led Trinity with eight rebounds, while Rivara was credited with six rebounds.
"I am proud of how Nico and Jordan adapted. While not having their best scoring nights, they found other ways to help (Jordan with seven assists, Troplent with five steals)," Ioane said.
Willamette shot 37.7% overall (23 of 61), while Trinity shot 37.9% (22 of 58). The Bearcats' 12-of-14 shooting from behind the arc gave them an advantage, with the Tigers hitting just 6 of 17 long-range shots (35.3%). Both teams excelled at the foul line, with Willamettte going 17 of 21 (81.0%) and Trinity finishing 16 for 20 (80.0%). After hitting 1 of 2 free throws in the first half, Willamette was 16 of 19 over the final 20 minutes.
The Bearcats will be back in action tomorrow (Saturday, Dec. 30), when they will host Elmhurst College (Ill.) at Cone Field House. Game time is scheduled for 2 p.m. (PST). Elmhurst edged Pacific University, 96-93, in Forest Grove, Oregon, on Friday.