Willamette Battles to the Finish, but #7 Whitworth Slips Past Bearcats, 67-65

Jordan Jenkins (Jr., F, Placentia, CA/Valencia HS)
Jordan Jenkins (Jr., F, Placentia, CA/Valencia HS)

By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications

SALEM, Ore. -- The Willamette University men's basketball team put up quite a battle against 7th-ranked Whitworth University on Friday, January 19 -- especially early in the first half and throughout the second half -- before the Pirates narrowly slipped past the Bearcats, 67-65, at Cone Field House. Willamette had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds, but a short contested jumper by Brendon McCullough (Sr., G, San Antonio, TX/Home Schooled) missed and time expired as Conin Oishi (Sr., G, Lake Forest Park, WA/Shorecrest HS) grabbed the rebound.

Whitworth advanced its record to 14-2 on the season and to 6-1 in the Northwest Conference. Willamette fell to 8-8 overall, 3-4 in the NWC.

Jordan Jenkins (Jr., F, Placentia, CA/Valencia HS) scored 18 points for the Bearcats by going 6 of 9 on field goals and 5 for 5 at the free throw line. He also grabbed five reobunds. Trent Callan (Jr., G, Portland, OR/Lincoln HS) supplied Willamette with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists, one steal and one blocked shot.

Casey Thornton (Sr., W, Santa Rosa, CA/Maria Carrillo HS) chipped in nine points, while Nico Troplent (Sr., W, Guadaloupe, France/Cathedral HS) scored seven points and earned seven rebounds despite playing just 16 minutes due to foul trouble. McCullough finished with seven points, five boards, two assists and two steals. The Bearcats outebounded the Pirates, 39-36.

Willamette shot 44.1% for the game (26 of 59), including 51.7% in the second half (15 of 29). The Bearcats were 8 for 25 from 3-point range and sank 5 of 7 free throws. Willamette limited Whitworth to 36.1% field goal shooting (22 of 61). The Pirates hit 7 of 23 three-pointers (30.4%) and made 16 of 22 free throws. Willamette was called for 20 fouls, while the Pirates picked up 11 fouls.

"I have never been more proud of a group of players," Willamette Head Coach Kip Ioane said. "The sheer fight they showed tonight was extraordinary. Our challenge now is to digest the disappointment of this close loss and turn it into absolute fuel for tomorrow."

Willamette will take on the nation's #1 team in NCAA Divison III on Saturday (Jan. 20) when the Bearcats host Whitman College at Cone Field House at 6 p.m. (PST). Whitman is 16-0 overall and 7-0 in the NWC.

In Friday's game, Whitworth was led by Kyle Roach with 22 points and six rebounds. He connected on 4 of 8 three-points shots, including two or three from very long range. Jared Christy provided the Pirates with 12 points and a game-high eight rebounds, while Ben College added 11 points. Sam Lees amassed 10 points and five boards.

The Bearcats trailed 47-36 after Lees hit a jumper for Whitworth with 11:20 remaining. A layup by Jenkins started a 12-3 run that reduced the margin to two points, 50-48, following a jumper by Callan at the 7:09 mark. Whitworth gained the next five points, including an old-fashioned 3-point play by Roach with 5:35 left, as the Pirates claimed a 55-48 lead.

Willamette trailed 60-54 with 4:17 left, but scored the next six points. Jenkins recorded a traditional 3-point play of his own with 2:43 on the clock to create the game's first tie.

Roach put in a layup to give the Pirates a 62-60 edge with 2:18 remaining, but Troplent swished a 3-pointer at the 1:52 mark to put Willamette in front 63-62. The lead changed hands three times over the next 47 seconds, as Christy sank two free throws with 1:37 left, Troplent answered with a jumper with 1:20 to go, and Roach made two free throws with 1:05 left. The free throws by Roach gave the Pirates a 66-65 advantage.

Troplent lost the ball with 51 seconds left, and grabbed Lees one second later for his fifth foul. Lees went 1 for 2 at the line, as Whitworth took a 67-65 lead. The Bearcats committed a turnover with 38 seconds to go, but Roach was unsuccessful on a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left. McCullough grabbed the rebound and dashed down the court, but his jump shot missed with two seconds remaining.

The Bearcats scored the first seven points of the game on their way to a 12-3 lead. The offense included a 3-pointer by Callan just 26 seconds into the game and a 3-pointer by Thornton to complete the run with 16:15 on the clock. Whitworth recovered and went on a 12-2 run to grab a 15-14 lead on a 3-pointer by Roach at the 13:52 mark. The Pirates took a 23-18 advantage later in the half when Christy sank a 3-pointer with 8:31 left.

McCullough recorded a steal at one end of the court and scored on a layup at the other end to cut the margin to 23-20 with 7:51 to go. After the basket, the Bearcats did not score for more than six minutes, but Whitworth earned only nine points during the dry spell. When McCullough scored on a jumper in the paint with 1:19 left, Willamette trailed 32-22. Whitworth led 33-25 at the half.

Both teams battled hard. There were multiple efforts from players on both teams to leap, run, and dive for contested rebounds. Willamette starters and reserves made some tremendous shots in the second half to create the comeback and push Whitworth until the final buzzer. Roach, Lees and Christy made key shots for Whitworth. By the end of the game, the two teams had expended plenty of energy. Roach played all 40 minutes for the Pirates. Callan went 36 minutes for Willamette.