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PORTLAND, Ore. – Free from the challenge of containing the league’s leading scorer, Lewis & Clark easily avenged an early-season loss to Linfield, getting the better of the Wildcats 61-45 Saturday evening inside the Pamplin Sports Center.
With an injured Andrew Batiuk, averaging 18.6 points per game, sitting in dress clothes on the end of the bench, the Wildcats were left to rely on someone else to step up in a huge way, or a score-by-committee approach, to earn the season sweep. Unfortunately, neither hope materialized for visitors, who finished with season-low totals for second-half points (24) and final score (45).
Turnovers, fouls and overall scrappy play prevented either team from settling into any sense of offensive rhythm in the opening half. Linfield, for its part, had 12 turnovers over the first 20 minutes, including several errant passes in the key.
The Wildcats tallied their first six points in the paint, with Linfield players weaving their way through the key on drives and cuts. Lewis & Clark, meanwhile, elected for the outside game in the early going, getting back-to-back 3-pointers from Dexter Pearce that gave the home team an 11-8 lead with 15:39 remaining.
But the Pios, the league’s most efficient 3-point shooting team in the NWC, hit just 4-of-14 attempts from beyond the arc (28 percent) in the opening half.
Aside from a couple of nice jumpers from Tim Pang and Nick Cantonwine, the Wildcats cooled off, their shot conversion rate dipping to 28 percent by the halftime buzzer. Lewis & Clark pushed its advantage to 10 points, 24-14, on a left-side drive from Ross Erickson.
After Chris Dirks hauled in a rebound off a missed 3-point attempt, Linfield held for the final shot. However, a turnover with six seconds on the clock gave that coveted opportunity to the Pios. James Hollins took advantage, pushing the ball up the court and knocking in a 3-point buzzer-beater to earn his first field goal of the evening and give his team a 13-point advantage at the break.
A Cody Jurgens trey 1½ minutes into the second half trimmed the scoring spread to 10 points, but that is as close as it got the rest of the night. Lewis & Clark led by as many as 21 points, 58-37, after a pair of Erickson free throws with 5:44 to play.
Though the Wildcats struggled offensively, its defensive effort was better. Linfield held Lewis & Clark 13 points below its season average. The 'Cats also cleaned up the turnovers in the second half, making just four mistakes over the final 20 minutes of play, and knocked down 14 free throws to the Pioneers’ nine.
Cantonwine finished with a career-high 14 points to lead all players. Dirks, who got the nod to start the second half, finished with a game-high nine rebounds to go along with six points.
Erickson totaled 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting. Serg Ovchinnikov had nine, including a trio of 3-point baskets.
With the victory, the Pioneers maintained their hold on second place in the Northwest Conference team standings with a 7-3 record against league opponents, 13-6 overall. The Wildcats, meanwhile, dropped to 2-8 in the NWC and 3-16 for the season.
NEXT: The road warriors continue their long stretch away from home, as Linfield travels to Pacific Lutheran next Friday evening. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.