Verduin's 23 Points help Bearcats Battle Pirates before #8 Whitworth Wins, 91-79

Johnny Verduin (Sr./So., F, Seattle, WA/Ballard HS)
Johnny Verduin (Sr./So., F, Seattle, WA/Ballard HS)

By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications

SALEM, Ore. -- Willamette University trailed #8-ranked Whitworth University 48-30 at halftime, but battled back to within five points with 5:27 remaining in the game, before the Pirates pulled away for a 91-79 win over the Bearcats on Saturday, Dec. 3 at Cone Field House. Johnny Verduin (Sr./So., F, Seattle, WA/Ballard HS) led Willamette with a career-high 23 points.

Whitworth, ranked #8 in the Top25, improved to 4-0 on the season, 1-0 in the Northwest Conference. Willamette fell to 1-6 on the season, 0-2 in the NWC.

The Bearcats scored 30 field goals and shot 48.4%, while Whitworth hit the nets for 26 field goals and 51.0% accuracy. The Pirates gained a big edge at the free throw line, converting 33 of 40 shots. The Bearcats went 15 of 16 on free throws.

Willamette trailed by as many as 22 points in the first half. The Bearcats eventually cut the margin to 75-70 on a layup by Casey Thornton (Jr., F, Santa Rosa, CA/Maria Carrillo HS) with just under five-and-a-half minutes left in the second half.  A bit later, the Bearcats trailed by just six points, 79-73, with 3:55 to go. Whitworth closed out the game with a 12-6 run.

Kyle Roach led Whitworth with 28 points and seven rebounds. He sank 15 of 18 free throws. Christina Jurlina tacked on 22 points and had four assists. The Pirates also received 13 points from Kenny Love, and 10 points each from Derek Isaak and Drew Sears.

Verduin was 10 of 14 on field goals for the Bearcats and was 3 of 4 at the free throw line. He also led the Bearcats with six rebounds. Verduin's previous career-high for scoring was eight points in the season opener against University of Texas-Tyler.

Against Whitworth on Saturday, Conan Oishi added 12 points and three assists for Willamette. Jordan Jenkins (So., F, Placentia, CA/Valencia HS) and Nico Troplent (Jr., W, Los Angeles, CA/Cathedral HS) each scored 10 points, while Dylan Critchfield (Jr., P, Broomfield, CO/Standley Lake HS) contributed eight points and five rebounds.

The Pirates took a 16-4 lead with 14:01 left in the first half following a layup by Ben Bishop. Willamette used an 8-3 run to get a close as 19-12 on a jumper by Oishi with 11:00 on the clock.

Whitworth's lead was nine points at the 8:43 mark, but the Pirates extended the margin by scoring nine consecutive points for a 32-14 advantage. The lead reached 40-18 when Love sank a 3-pointer with 4:56 remaining.

Six unanswered points for the Bearcats reduced the margin to 40-24 with 3:10 to go. The short run started with a jumper by Trent Callan (So., G, Portland, OR/Lincoln HS) and ended with four points by Verduin on a basket and a pair of foul shots. Whitworth gained an 8-6 scoring edge during the rest of the half to claim its 48-30 halftime lead.

Willamette trailed 54-38 with 17:21 remaining in the game after Love hit a jump shot for the Pirates. The Bearcats scored 11 of the next 12 points -- including five points by Oishi and four by Verduin -- to cut the lead to 59-49 with 14:28 on the clock.

The Bearcats also trailed by just 10 points after Hayden Russell (Jr., W, Woodland, CA/Da Vinci Charter Academy) stole the ball and scored on a fast-break at the 11:44 mark, reducing Whitworth's edge to 63-53.

Whitworth took a 69-53 lead on two free throws Roach with 9:46 left, and owned a 75-62 advantage following a pair of free throws by Isaak two minutes later.

That's when Willamette began its most successful comeback of the night, as the Bearcats went on an 8-0 run over the next 2:19. All eight points involved Troplent, who started the surge with two 3-point baskets. He added a steal and an assist to create a layup by Thornton with 5:27 remainng to cut the margin to 75-70.

Jurlina scored for Whitworth on a jumper with 5:05 to go. Willamette moved within six points on a free throw by Verduin at the 4:22 mark and trailed just 79-73 on a jumper by Critchfield with 3:55 to play.

The Pirates tallied the next seven points -- five by Roach -- to take an 86-73 lead with 2:01 left. Willamette pulled within 87-79 on a driving layup by Oishi with 1:01 remaining, but added four points at the line.

Willamette finished with a 30-28 advantage on the boards. Whitworth connected on 6 of 16 three-pointers (37.5%), including 5 of 11 in the first half. Willamette was 4 for 10 from behind the 3-point arc.

The Bearcats will be back in action at Cone Field House on Friday, Dec. 9, when they host University of La Verne (Calif.). Game time is set for 6 p.m. (PST).