Thornton and Jenkins Lead Bearcats, as Willamette Holds Off Texas-Tyler, 85-81

Casey Thornton (Jr., F, Santa Rosa, CA/Maria Carrillo HS)
Casey Thornton (Jr., F, Santa Rosa, CA/Maria Carrillo HS)

By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications

SALEM, Ore. -- Casey Thornton (Jr., W, Santa Rosa, CA/Maria Carrillo HS) scored 20 points, including 11 in the second half, and teammate Jordan Jenkins (So., F, Placentia, CA/Valencia HS) earned 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, as Willamette University held off University of Texas-Tyler for an 85-81 victory on opening night at Cone Field House. Willamette moved to 1-0 on the season, while UT-Tyler fell to 0-1.

Emeka Obukwelu topped UT-Tyler with 19 points and seven boards. Verlo Levels and Jovan Yancy each added 16 points for the Patriots.

Willamette held a 75-63 lead with 4:03 left in the game, but UT-Tyler got within 81-79 when Josh Tatum sank a layup and a foul shot with 19 seconds left. Brendon McCullough (Jr., G, San Antonio, TX/Home Schooled) hit two free throws with 10 seconds remaining to give Willamette an 83-79 lead.

Tatum scored on another layup for the Patriots with four seconds to go. Jenkins was fouled after the in-bounds pass and converted two free throws for the Bearcats to seal the win.

The game was unusual in that both teams wore Bearcat uniforms. UT-Tyler left its jerseys at the team's hotel in Lake Oswego. The Patriots wore Willamette's gold alternate uniforms.

Willamette shot 60.9% in the first half, including five 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes. The Bearcats were in front 17-6 after a 3-pointer by Hayden Russell (Sr., W, Woodland, CA/Da Vinci Charter Academy) at the 15:42 mark and held a 20-8 advantage after Thornton sank a 3-pointer with 15:00 on the clock. A bit later, WU owned a 30-15 advantage with 9:03 left in the period. 

UT-Tyler, which achieved a 17-8 advantage in points off turnovers during the half, cut the margin to 40-39 on a layup by Yancy with 53 seconds on the clock. Johnny Verduin (Sr./So., F, Seattle, WA/Ballard HS) made two free throws for WU with 30 second left to send the Bearcats into halftime with a 42-39 lead.

The Patriots tied the score at 44-44 with 17:38 remaining in the game on a jumper by Levels, but never took the lead. The Patriots got as close as a single point four more times, including 53-52 after Yancy hit a pair of free throws at the 13:09 mark

Willamette tallied the next five points for a 58-52 lead. Later, the Bearcats were in front by just four points, 60-56, following a basket by UT-Tyler's Skyler Hadden with 9:31 on the clock.

That's when Thornton stepped up for the Bearcats. He scored nine points in just over five minutes to key a 15-7 run that gave the Bearcats a 75-63 advantage. Thornton started the run with a pair of jumpers, then Russell added a 3-pointer for a 67-58 lead. After UT-Tyler added a free throw, Thornton hit a jumper and Jenkins made two free throws.

Deion Robinson scored to pull the Patriots within 71-63, but Thornton answered by sinking a 3-pointer with 4:25 left. McCullough tacked on a free throw 22 seconds later to complete the run.

Willamette shot 47.3% for the game (26 of 55), including 30.4% from 3-point range (7 of 23). The Bearcats converted 26 of 39 free throws (66.7%).

UT-Tyler shot 40.0% (28 of 70) and hit just 2 of 10 three-point shots. The Patriots went 23 of 37 (62.2%) at the line.

The game featured 59 fouls, with 31 called against the Patriots and 28 on Willamette. The Bearcats committed 22 turnovers, while UT-Tyler lost the ball 13 times. Melvin Anthony of UT-Tyler recorded five steals to lead all players. Dylan Critchfield (Jr.., P, Broomfield, CO/Standley Lake HS) of Willamette blocked four shots. The Bearcats blocked eight shots overall.

WU will be back in action on Saturday (Nov. 19), when they will host Northwest Christian University. Game time at Cone Field House is set for 7 p.m. (PST).