By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Whitman College, ranked #1 in the D3hoops.com Top 25 Poll, received a battle from Willamette University in the first half, but pulled away from the Bearcats in the second half for a 93-67 win at the Sherwood Athletic Center. The Blues remained undefeated at 24-0, including 15-0 in the Northwest Conference. Willamette, which trailed by just six points at the half, 41-35, fell to 11-13 overall, 6-9 in the NWC.
Willamette was led by Nico Troplent (Sr., W, Guadaloupe, France/Cathedral HS) with 18 points, four rebounds and three assists, while teammate Jordan Jenkins (Jr., F, Placentia, CA/Valencia HS) produced a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Troplent was 5 of 10 from the field and hit 6 of 8 free throws. Jenkins hit 4 of 7 shots and went 3 of 4 at the line.
Brendon McCullough (Sr., G, San Antonio, TX/Home Schooled) added 13 points, five rebounds and two steals for the Bearcats. He led all players with a trio of 3-point baskets on six attempts, while Troplent sank two long-range shots on four tries. Casey Thornton (Sr., W, Santa Rosa, CA/Maria Carrillo HS) supplied nine points and six rebounds.
The Blues placed five players in double figures, led by Tim Howell with 19 points on 8-of-14 field goal shooting. Howell also registered five of Whitman's 17 steals, as the Blues forced WU into 23 turnovers. Whitman lost the ball 11 times.
Also reaching double-digit scoring for the Blues were Joey Hewit with 15 points, Jaon Kirkley with 11 points and Austin Butler with 10 points. Kirkley connected on 7 of 7 free throws. Robert Colton grabbed six boards for the Blues and tied Howell with five steals. Hewitt and Butler hauled down five boards apiece.
"They are #1 in the country for a reason: they put unyielding pressure on you to be great for two halves," Willamette Head Coach Kip Ioane said. "We were able to answer the challenge in the first half ... not the second."
Each team scored twice in the first minute of play before Whitman added six consecutive points for a 10-4 advantage after Ben Beatie put in a layup with 17:29 left in the half. Jenkins scored next for Willamette, but the Blues followed up with a 7-0 run for a 17-6 lead. Later, Howell converted a traditional three-point play to give the Blues a 23-9 edge at the 12:10 mark.
Willamette kept battling and reduced the margin to a single digit at 25-18 on a tip-in and a foul shot by Ben Sutton (Fr., F, Seattle, WA/Ingraham HS) with 8:10 on the clock. Whitman earned the next four points on a pair of layups by Colton, but the Bearcats countered with four points of their own to get within 29-22 with 5:24 left.
The Bearcats trailed by fewer than 10 points for the rest of the half. A jumper from Thornton with 46 seconds to go, pulled Willamette as close as 38-35. Howell made a jumper and a free throw for the Blues with 34 seconds remaining to give Whitman its 41-35 lead at the break.
It was more than a minute into the second half of the fast-paced game before Howell scored for Whitman on a jumper that opened a 13-0 run by the Blues. The outburst expanded Whitman's advantage to 54-36 with 14:36 left. The Blues took advantage of their momentum and soon added an 8-2 run, starting with a traditional three-point play by Darne Duckett, to grab a 64-43 margin at the 11:09 mark.
Willamette put together an 11-4 surge that reduced Whitman's hold on the game to 68-54 with 8:15 remaining. The run included one 3-point basket each from Troplent and McCullough. Willamette trailed by a similar margin of 76-62 after a layup by Troplent with 5:34 to to go. The Blues went on a 9-1 run for an 85-63 led with 3:25 left.
The Bearcats shot 37.9% for the game (22 of 58) and went 6 of 22 from 3-point range (27.3%). WU sank 17 of 25 free throws (68.0%). The Bearcats gained a 46-37 rebounding margin after leading by five boards at halftime. Whitman was 32 of 67 on field goals (47.8%), but made just 2 of 16 three-point shots (12.5%). The Blues were 27 of 38 (71.1%) at the free throw line.
Willamette will play its last game of the season on Saturday, Feb. 17 in Spokane, Washington, against NWC rival Whitworth University. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. (PST).