By Timothy Walsh, Athletics Communications Writer
WHITTIER, Calif. -- Bridger Harlington (Sr., W, Lake Tapps, WA/Auburn Riverside HS) scored a career-high 22 points, while Brandon Luedtke (Sr., F, Meridian ID/Mountain View HS) added 12 points and a career-high 18 rebounds, as Willamette University earned an 84-71 victory over host Whittier College at the Poet Classic on Tuesday, Dec. 29 at the Graham Athletic Center.
Willamette improved to 3-7 on the season. The Poets fell to 3-4 overall.
Harlington, who connected on six of his seven three-point attempts in the game, topped his previous career high of 21 points, which came in the Bearcats' 67-53 victory over archrival Linfield College on Jan. 24, 2015. Luedtke broke his previous career high of 16 rebounds, set earlier this season in Willamette's season-opening 78-69 win over Macalester College (Minn.).
Two other Bearcat starters reached double figures in scoring. Nico Troplent (So., W, Los Angeles, CA/Cathedral HS) contributed 14 points, and Alex Brown (Sr., F, Happy Valley, OR/Clackamas HS) chipped in 11 points.
Eric Jennings and Anthony Martinez topped Whittier's scoring with 16 points each.
Willamette led the entire game. After a scoreless first minute, Luedtke's jumper at the 18:56 mark of the first half starting a game-opening 10-1 Bearcat run. Harlington hit two threes during the spurt, sandwiched around a Brown layup.
The Poets pulled within 12-7 after Chris Kapano hit a jump shot, but Casey Thornton (So., F, Santa Rosa, CA/Maria Carrillo HS) answered with a triple, and the Bearcats pushed their lead to double digits on a pair of free throws from Troplent at 11:07.
Whittier again closed the gap, this time to 27-20, with 7:05 remaining before halftime. But a three-pointer from Nathan Sherfey (So., W, Chehalis, WA/W.F. West HS) capped a 10-2 Willamette with 3:16 left, and the Bearcats carried a 41-31 lead into halftime.
Willamette's lead stayed between 10 and 14 points for the first three minutes of the second half, before another 10-2 run ballooned the margin to 56-38 with 15:12 on the clock. Harlington kick-started the spurt with his fourth triple of the night, and Hayden Russell (Jr., W, Woodland, CA/Da Vinci Charter Academy) finished the run with a trifecta of his own.
The Poets answered, reeling off a 12-2 run -- fueled by seven points from Martinez -- to pull within 58-50 at the 12:39 mark.
Though Harlington's fifth and sixth three-pointers of the night pushed the Bearcats' lead back to 64-52, Whittier stayed within striking distance, twice reducing the margin to seven points. When Jennings hit a jump shot with 5:45 to go, Willamette led 71-64.
But Brendon McCullough (So., G, San Antonio, TX/Home Schooled) answered with back-to-back buckets, and after Luedtke scored on a layup with 2:30 remaining, the Bearcats' lead never dipped below double digits.
Willamette shot 48.3% from the field (29 of 60) for the game, including 9 of 21 (42.9%) on three-pointers. The Bearcats connected on 17 of 28 free throw attempts (60.7%).
WU limited the Poets to 40.6% shooting (28 of 69), including just 2 of 20 (10.0%) from beyond the arc. Whittier converted 13 of 17 free throws (76.5%).
Powered by Luedtke's effort, the Bearcats finished with a 48-35 rebounding edge, helping offset 21 Willamette turnovers. The Poets turned the ball over just 14 times.
The Bearcats will conclude the Poet Classic with a game against Chapman University on Wednesday, Dec. 30. This will be the second meeting this season between the Bearcats and the Panthers, after Chapman earned a 72-62 victory over Willamette on Friday, Nov. 20 in Orange, Calif. Whittier will provide a live video stream of the contest, which is scheduled to tip off at 6 p.m.