SALEM, Ore. – Ben College's three-pointer just before the buzzer bounced off the back iron, allowing Willamette to hold on for a 95-93 upset of 5th-ranked Whitworth in a Northwest Conference men's basketball game on Saturday night at Cone Field House.
The visiting Pirates trailed by double digits in both halves before rallying to within two points in the final seconds. However, Whitworth fell to 15-3 overall and 8-2 in the NWC, now two games behind Whitman College in the league standings. The Pirates travel to play at the 3rd-ranked Blues on Tuesday night.
The Bearcats ended a 22-game losing streak to the Bucs and improved to 6-13, 3-7 in the NWC.
Whitworth led only briefly in the game. After Willamette jumped to a 10-4 lead on a Jordan Jenkins layup, the Pirates scored the next nine points to go up 13-10 on an Isaiah Hernandez basket. Jared Christy scored the first five points of that run. The Whitworth defense did not contain Willamette's offense in the first 20 minutes, however, allowing the Bearcats to make 60% of their attempts. Ben Sutton's basket made it 25-17 in favor of Willamette 10 minutes into the game and the Bearcats stretched the lead to as many as 14 points (46-32) on a three-pointer by Justus Eaglesmith with 3:16 to play. The Pirates fought back to within 48-43 on College's three-pointer before Willamette took a 50-43 lead into the locker rooms.
Whitworth cut the lead to 55-51 five minutes into the second half after a Christy free throw. Willamette responded to stretch the lead back to 67-55 with 11 minutes left on a three-pointer by Jonathan Watts. Trent Callan's three-pointer put the Bearcats up 88-80 with 2:48 to play, but College answered with an important three for Whitworth. Eaglesmith went 4-4 at the free throw line in the last 20 seconds seconds for Willamette's final points. After College made a pair of free throws with five seconds left, cutting the margin to 95-93, the Pirates forced a turnover on the Bearcats' inbounds. Whitworth worked the ball to College, who took his three pointer from near the top of the key. Time expired as both teams fought for the rebound.
Whitworth played well enough offensively. The Pirates made 52.7% (29-55) from the field, 44% (8-18) from three-point range. College and Christy scored 22 points apiece while Kyle Roach finished with a dozen and Hernandez tallied 11 points off the bench. Christy also led the Bucs with eight rebounds.
Willamette had its way offensively, shooting 59% (36-61) from the field, 60% (12-20) from beyond the arc. The Bearcats also had a 32-24 edge in rebounding. Jenkins scored a game-high 23 points to go along with nine rebounds and seven assists. Watts scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, while Eaglesmith finished with 18 points.
Willamette's last victory over Whitworth came on Feb. 2, 2008 when the Bearcats pulled out an 82-74 victory in Spokane. Their last win over Whitworth in Salem was February 15, 2003 (66-56), ending a 15-game home losing streak to the Bucs.