Lutes Alone in Second After Defeating Pioneers, 69-54

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PARKLAND - Pacific Lutheran is all alone in second place in the Northwest Conference men's basketball standings after defeating the visiting Lewis & Clark Pioneers, 69-54, on Friday night in Olson Auditorium.

The Lutes improved to 4-2 in the conference and trail only Whitworth, which is 5-0. While there is still plenty of conference basketball ahead, PLU (7-8 overall) played some of its best basketball in recent years this week in wins over Puget Sound and Lewis & Clark. With the defeat, the Pioneers fall to 2-3 in the conference and 7-7 overall.

As they had done in an 18-point Tuesday night victory over Puget Sound, the Lutes got on top early, built a big lead, and then held onto it against the athletic Pioneers. Unlike Tuesday night, when PLU never trailed, Lewis & Clark did score the game's first basket when Ross Erickson backed down the defense and spun to the basket for a layup. The hosts responded at the other end on a floater by James Conti to tie it, and they took a 4-2 lead a minute in on Kai Hoyt's layup. PLU never trailed after that.

The Lutes built their first double-digit lead just 6 1/2 minutes into the game, going on top 15-4 on a Cameron Schilling jumper. After the Pioneers got to within 17-12 on a Marcus Wells three-point basket with 8:41 left in the half, the Lutes were able to again take the momentum and eventually had a 31-19 advantage on Schilling's jumper with 1:30 left in the half.

The low-scoring first half came to a close with the Lutes on top, 31-22. At that point, the Pioneers were shooting just 32 percent (9-for-28) overall and 23 percent (3-for-13) from three-point range. PLU, meanwhile, was at 48 percent (14-for-29).

Lewis & Clark got as close as five points in the first couple of minutes of the final period, making the score 33-28 on a three-ball by P.J. Taylor, but again the Lutes had an answer. They led by at least 11 points throughout the final 11 minutes of the game and had their largest lead of the game at 17 points on two occasions.

Senior guard James Conti continued to play the best basketball of his collegiate career, leading his team with 20 points, tying for game-high rebounding honors with seven, and adding four assists for good measure. Schilling scored 13 points and had six rebounds, while guard Drew Earnest tied Conti in the rebounding category with seven.

PLU finished the game shooting 49 percent (29-for-53) from the field and also enjoyed a massive 41-24 advantage on the boards.

After a slow start, James Hollins got it going in the second half for the visitors and led his team with 18, though he was the only L&C player in double figures. He also led his team with five rebounds. The Pioneers shot just 37 percent from the field (21-for-57) and 27 percent (7-for-26) from three-point range.

PLU is back in action next Friday night when it plays George Fox in Newberg, Ore.

- PLU -