NEWBERG, Ore. – After building a 21-point second-half lead, the George Fox University Bruins saw the University of Puget Sound whittle their lead down to six before hitting 12 of 16 free throws in the last five minutes to hold off the 18th-ranked Loggers 86-80 in Northwest Conference men's basketball action Saturday night here at the Wheeler Sports Center's Miller Gym.
With its third straight win before the season's largest crowd of 1,300 on "Bruin Madness" night, a family fun and spirit-building event sponsored by the George Fox Alumni Association, the Bruins improved to 7-8 overall and 4-2 in the conference. George Fox is now tied for second in the NWC with Pacific Lutheran University and Whitman College behind 6-0 Whitworth University. Puget Sound dropped its third in a row, falling to 11-4 overall and 3-3 in the NWC.
The Loggers scored the first three points of the game on a jumper by Derek Jobe and a free throw by Anthony Gittens, but Anthony Sanchez tied it for the Bruins with a three-pointer. After Gittens and the Bruins' A.J. Grant swapped baskets, Sanchez hit another three at the 17:26 mark and the Bruins led the rest of the way.
While both teams continued to blister the nets, the Bruins gradually pulled away by taking advantage of the Loggers' nine turnovers while committing only four themselves. The George Fox lead finally hit double figures when Spencer Bolte drained a three to make it 30-20 with 7:31 left in the half, and the Bruins closed the period with a three by Mike Taylor and two Sean Atkins free throws to lead by 18, 47-29, at the break.
George Fox shot .607 (17-28) in the period, including 9-15 (.600) from beyond the arc, with Sanchez scoring 12, all on threes, and Taylor and Bolte adding 10 each. Gittens kept Puget Sound in the game by scoring 12 points, hitting 5-6 from the floor as the Loggers shot .650 (13-20).
Gittens hit four free throws in the first minute of the second half to pull the Loggers within 14, but Taylor hit a basket to get the Bruins going and they extended their lead to 21 at 62-41 on a trey by Sanchez with 14:21 left. The home team was still up 19 at 72-53 with 9:18 to go after a layup by Grant – and then the Bruins went cold. A 13-0 outburst over the next five minutes, including three straight layups by Gittens, brought the Loggers within six, a layup by Riggs Yarbro cutting it to 72-66 with five minutes remaining.
Two free throws by Taylor ended the UPS run, and Atkins added two more charity tosses for a 76-66 lead with 3:55 left. The Loggers continued to chip away at the gap, however, with two baskets by Gittens, a drive by Rex Holmes, and two NBA-range threes by Ryan Rogers, but each time the Bruins responded with one or two made free throws. A layup by Rogers made it a one-possession game at 83-80 with 26 seconds left, but Sanchez hit two free throws with 14 seconds left and Taylor one with six ticks remaining to ice the upset win.
The Bruins placed five players in double figures who produced all the scoring except for a lone free throw. Taylor led the way with 25, 15 in the second half, followed by Sanchez with 20, Atkins and Bolte with 14 apiece, and Grant with 12. The Bruins shot .571 (28-49) for the game, including .455 (10-22) on threes, and .714 (20-28) from the line. Taylor had five rebounds, Grant handed out seven assists, and Jon Adrian made three steals.
Gittens led all scorers with 29 points for the Loggers, 17 in the second half, sinking 10-11 from the field, and hauled down eight rebounds, as did Rogers, giving the visitors a 33-22 advantage on the boards. The Loggers ended with a .527 shooting mark (29-55) but were only 4-17 (.235) from long distance, and shot .643 (18-28) from the line. Rogers passed out five assists.
NEXT: George Fox plays its third straight conference home game Friday against Pacific Lutheran University, with second place in the conference on the line, at 8:00 p.m. … Puget Sound returns home to host Linfield College Friday, also at 8:00 p.m. … Both games will be part of NWC doubleheaders, with the women's games preceding at 6:00 p.m.