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SALEM, Ore. – A last-ditch three-point attempt from Cody Jurgens rattled out and Linfield suffered a gut-wrenching 68-67 NWC loss to host Willamette Tuesday night at the Cone Field House.
The Bearcats (7-10, 4-4 NWC) followed the numbers as Terrell Malley, their leading scorer, turned in a season-high 30 points and the conference’s leading rebounder, Sean Dart, contributed a game-high 11 boards to go along with 10 points for a double-double.
Jordan Russell’s 13 points were a new career high and a team-best in the guard’s first career start. Zach Meikle and Tim Pang each turned in 10 points for the ‘Cats. NWC leading scorer Andrew Batiuk was limited to less than 10 points for the second consecutive game, but gave the ‘Cats 11 rebounds. Linfield fell to 3-15 on the season with the loss, moved to 2-7 in NWC play and suffered its fourth straight defeat.
The teams traded buckets to open the game as Elliot Babcock-Krenk got the Bearcats going with a three and Pang followed with a layup.
A 5-0 run by the ‘Cats gave Linfield its first lead of the game with the score at 13-12 midway through the first. Though Batiuk was held scoreless up to this point, the talented sophomore had already grabbed six rebounds.
Russell sank a pair of threes that came in the midst of a 10-1 run and put the Wildcats up 23-14 with eight minutes left in the first. Four quick points from Dart and Malley had Willamette knocking on the door with less than six minutes until the half.
Free throws down the stretch from Malley and Oliver Hughes had the Bearcats within one, 34-33 as the teams headed to the locker room.
Malley, who came in ranking fifth in the conference in scoring (15.3), led all scorers with 15 in the first, while Russell topped the Wildcats’ roster with nine. While the teams were both right around 42 in terms of shooting percentage, Willamette hit 7-of-9 from the free throw line and the Wildcats converted just 4-of-10.
The lead shifted hands twice in the opening two minutes of the second, as both teams came out of the break with a replenished offensive mentality. Moments later Linfield exploded for a 6-0 run, capped off by a layup from Cory Hendryx that put the score at 44-38.
Willamette accepted the challenge and put together a 9-0 run of its own in which Sam Walters contributed a pair of threes. Ensuing layups from Alex Brown and Noah Ripley had the Bearcats on top 51-46 mid-way through the second.
Neither team managed to pull away moving through the middle part of the second. After a pair of free throws from Batiuk that put Linfield up by three, the Bearcats burst into a 6-0 run to put the hosts in front with less than eight minutes to play.
Willamette could not sustain its lead moving down the stretch, as a key steal from Pang with 1:29 left led to a dunk by Jurgens to tie the score at 66-all. The Bearcats had the final say, however, as one last jumper from Malley secured the lead for good.
‘CAT SCRATCH: The series has been fairly level over the past decade, with the Bearcats holding a slight 14-8 advantage overall…neither team has built a winning streak against the other of more than three in that time span…Linfield has featured three or more double-digit scorers on eight occasions this season, while Willamette has accomplished the feat nine times…Meikle’s 10 points gave him double figures in consecutive games…the Bearcats took the sweep in the season series with the victory.
AHEAD: The ‘Cats take on Lewis & Clark in Portland Saturday. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. in the Pamplin Sports Center directly following the women’s game.