By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communciations
PARKLAND, Wash. -- Brandon Lester scored 20 points and Jared Christy earned a double-double with 14 points and a game-high 16 rebounds, as Pacific Lutheran University defeated Willamette University, 81-70, in Northwest Conference action on Saturday, Jan. 7 at Olson Gymnasium. The Bearcats trailed by single digits for most of the second half and were within 74-68 with less than three minutes remaining.
Pacific Lutheran ended the game with a 7-2 run to improve to 7-6, including 2-2 in the NWC. Willamette dropped to 2-11 overall, 0-4 in the NWC.
Lester earned his 20 points with 7-for-13 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers. Kyle Sawtell followed with 16 points and six rebounds for the Lutes. In addition to recording a double-double, Christy topped all players with six assists.
Jordan Jenkins (So., F, Placentia, CA/Valencia HS) paced the Bearcats with 15 points, five rebounds and two assists. Hayden Russell (Sr., W, Woodland, CA/Da Vinci Charter Academy) tacked on 12 points, while contributing four rebounds and four assists. Nico Troplent (Jr., W, Los Angeles, CA/Cathedral HS) also added 12 points, while leading WU with seven rebounds. Johnny Verduin (Sr./So., F, Seattle, WA/Ballard HS) finished with 11 points and six boards.
The game was tied 9-9 with 15:38 left in the first half, following a fast-break jumper scored by Russell and assisted by Brendon McCullough (Jr., G, San Antonio, TX/Home Schooled). Lester broke the tie with a 3-pointer for PLU, and Jenkins answered with a layup for the Bearcats.
PLU remained in front, but held just an 18-13 advantage following a successful jump shot by Dylan Critchfield of Willamette with 13:15 on the clock. The Lutes responded with four consecutive points by Lester and four more by Joshua Baird to start a 12-1 run for a 30-14 lead at the 9:49 mark.
The Bearcats pulled within 34-29 on a jumper by Jenkins with 6:15 to play before halftime. Lester then hit 1 of 2 freee throws for the Lutes, before a 4-0 run by Willamette ended with a basket by Russell to cut the lead to 35-33 with 4:47 left.
Willamette was unable to tie the score or take the lead. Even so, the Bearcats were within 43-39 after McCullough sank two free throws with 2:14 to go. The Lutes added the next six points and owned a 49-41 lead at the break.
Jenkkins connected on 1 of 2 free throws and Russell put through a 3-point shot with 19:35 left in the game, as WU cut the lead to 49-45. A bit over six minutes later, with 13:07 to go, the Bearcats moved within two points at 56-54 on a layup and foul shot by Troplent.
PLU countered with a 6-0 run to take a 62-54 margin on two free throws by Dylan Foreman at the 11:01 mark. Willamette trailed 74-68 with 2:48 on the clock following a layup by Jenkins.
The next four points went to Pacific Lutheran on a jumper by Christy with 1:25 remaining and a layup by Erik Swartout with 1:03 left, as the lead increased to 78-68.
Pacific Lutheran converted 46.8% of its shots (29 of 62). The Lutes were 3 of 10 from 3-point range and hit 20 of 27 free throws. PLU earned a 43-38 rebounding margin. Willamette shot 41.7% (25 of 60) and made 2 of 11 three-pointers. The Bearcats sank 18 of 27 free throw attempts (66.7%).
Up next for Willamette is a home game against George Fox University on Friday, Jan. 13 at Cone Field House. Game time is scheduled for 8 p.m. (PST).