By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- It's time for the opening weekend of Northwest Conference action in men's basketball for the 2018-19 season. The Bearcats will start NWC play by taking on two nationally ranked teams with games at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, on Friday, Nov. 30 at 8 p.m. (PST) and at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. Whitworth is ranked #14 in the D3hoops.com Top 25 Poll and Whitman is ranked #6. Whitworth is 3-1 on the season, while Whitman owns a 4-1 record.
Last year on a similar road trip in February of 2018, Willamette was close at halftime against Whitman and held a halftime lead at Whitworth. In each case, the home team took control in the second half to defeat the Bearcats. Willamette trailed Whitman by just six points at halftime, 41-36. The Bearcats led Whitworth 36-34 at the break.
At home last season, Willamette almost defeated Whitworth, rallying from a 33-25 halftime deficit to eventually lead 63-62 with 1:52 remaining in the game. Whitworth, ranked #7 at the time, edged the Bearcats, 67-65.
Willamette is 0-4 this season, but the Bearcats have played a challenging schedule. One of Willamette's game was against Pomona-Pitzer (Calif.), who gave Whitman its only loss of the season 112-109 in two overtimes one day after the Sagehens defeated the Bearcats.
Three Bearcats have double-digit scoring averages. Jordan Jenkins (Sr., F, Placentia, CA/Valencia HS) leads the way with 15.3 points per game. He also ranks first on the squad with 7.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. Jenkins has connected on 15 of 18 free throws (83.3%).
Trent Callan (Sr., G, Portland, OR/Lincoln HS) and Justus Eaglesmith (So., G, Sparks NV/Spanish Springs HS) are tied for second on Willamette's offensive chart with 10.8 points per contest. Callan is shooting 59.3% from the field (16 of 27) and had contributed 4.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. Eaglesmith has achieved 66.7% accuracy on field goals (16 of 24), including 64.7% on 3-pointers (11 of 17). He leads the NWC in field goal percentage and is second in 3-point percentage.
Alec Barba (So., W, Dallas, OR/Central HS) adds 8.8 points for game for the Bearcats and has converted 10 of 27 three-point shots (37.0%). Barba scored a career-high 15 points against LeTourneau University (Texas) in the season opener.
Willamette has been strong from 3-point range with the Bearcats sinking 41.5% of their shots from long-range. Four players -- Eaglesmith, Barba, Caleb Roberts (Sr., W, Salem, OR/North HS) and Jonathan Watts (Fr., G, San Diego, CA/Rancho Bernardo HS) -- have made four or more 3-pointers and all are shooting over 34%. Their combined 3-point shooting for the four leaders is 38.2% (34 of 89).
The Bearcats have blocked 17 shots, while the opponents have blocked 13 attempts. Ryan Peterson (So, P, Edmonds, WA/Edmonds-Woodway HS) leads Willamette with six blocks on the season, while CJ Walker (Jr., P, Placentia, CA/Mayfair HS) has recorded three blocks.
Leading Whitworth on offense is Ben College with 21.5 points per game. He has connected on 48.3% of his field goals (29 of 60), including 16 of 38 on 3-pointers (42.1%). He is 12 of 13 (92.3%) at the free throw line.
Kyle Roach ranks second in scoring for the Pirates at 17.3 points per contest. He tops Whitworth with 4.3 assists per game and leads the NWC with 23 made free throws. He's 23 of 29 at the line (79.3%).
Also averaging in double figures for Whitworth are Jordan Lester at 11.5 points per game and Jared Christy with 10.0 points per game. Lester has hit 54.8% of his shots (17 of 31), while Christy has connected on 60.0% from the field (15 of 25). Christy is the Pirates' top rebounder at 8.5 per game, while Jordan is second with 7.5 boards per contest. Whitworth is averaging 80.0 points per game and limiting opponents to 71.0 points per night.
Whitman also has four players with double-digit scoring averages. Joey Hewitt ranks first with 16.6 points per game, with Dame Duckett in second at 13.2 points per game. Duckett is shooting 54.1% on field goals (20 of 37). Jack Stewart in third for the Blues with 12.6 points per contest and Austin Butler is fourth with 11.4 points per game. Butler has been successful on 65.6% of his field goals (21 of 32) and ranks first on the team with 7.2 rebounds per game.
On offense, the Blues are very strong from 3-point range, where they have converted 49.7% of their attempts. Stewart has recorded a team-high 17 three-pointer. Five Whitman players have made at least eight 3-pointers.
Whitman's long-distance shooting has been a factor in the team scoring 103.6 points per game. The team's pressure defense also has contributed. Hewitt and Stewart lead the defense with 10 steals on the season. The Blues have forced teams into 111 turnovers for 22.2 turnovers per game.