Lutes Fend Off Challenge From Bearcats, Prevail 89-78

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PARKLAND - On paper, Saturday night's Northwest Conference men's basketball contest in Olson Auditorium between second-place Pacific Lutheran and last-place - and winless - Willamette would figure to end in a blowout.

Such was not the case, however, as the host Lutes had to scrap (which is something they do well) to finally put down the Bearcats, 89-78.

With the win, Pacific Lutheran improves to 7-3 in the conference, good for a three-way tie for second with Whitman and Puget Sound, and to 10-9 overall. Willamette is now 0-10 in the conference and 2-17 for the season.

Willamette senior wing Taylor Mounts took it on himself to keep his team in the game, and his variety of jump shots, three-point bombs and points near the basket totaled up to 30 points on 13-for-23 shooting. He also had a strong game on the boards, pulling down all 12 of his rebounds on the defensive end of the floor.

Mounts wasn't enough for the Bearcats to stave off their 10th consecutive conference loss, however, because the scrappy Lutes refused to let the visitors pull off the upset.

Led by Cameron Schilling with 19 points, PLU put four players in the double-figure scoring column. Drew Earnest scored 18 points, Cameron Reister came off the bench to tally 15, including 4-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc, and James Conti finished with 12 points to go along with seven assists. Schilling led the Lutes with nine rebounds. All 10 PLU players who saw action scored at least one point.

More impressive than any PLU statistics were the turnover numbers. After not turning the ball over in the opening half, the Lutes finished the game with just two turnovers.

The two squads battled on nearly equal terms for the majority of the game, and there were six ties and eight leads changes in the first half alone. Willamette took a 10-6 lead three minutes into the game and later led by as many as five points, 19-14, on Derek Newhof's three-point shot with 13:13 left in the opening half.

PLU trailed until the seven minute mark when Reister drained a trey to put the Lutes on top, 33-32, and the Lutes closed the half with seven unanswered points to lead 47-40 at the intermission.

Willamette surged ahead 51-50 on Sean Dart's basket with 16:34 to play, and a Joseph Jackson triple two minutes later gave the visitors a 56-52 advantage. Pacific Lutheran replied, however, and regained a 60-58 advantage on Austen Wilson's follow basket with 11:23 showing. That started a 10-0 PLU run, and the Lutes were able to hold off the Bearcats down the stretch despite Mounts collecting his final two points on a baseline drive and dunk.

Pacific Lutheran shot 48 percent from the field (31-for-64), including an impressive 47 percent (8-for-17) from three-point range. Less impressive, however, was PLU's 58 percent shooting (19-for-33) from the foul line.

Willamette, which got 10 points from Noah Ripley in addition to Mounts' big game, shot 52 percent (30-for-58) from the field and matched exactly PLU's numbers from three-point land. Willamette got to the foul line on 12 times, however, making 10 of those.

PLU hits the road next weekend, playing at Whitman on Friday and at Whitworth on Saturday in games against two of the other top teams in the conference.

- PLU -