SALEM, Ore.—The Puget Sound men's basketball squad overcame a final-minute Willamette lead and tallied a victory with big playoff implications Saturday night at Gordie James Court in Salem, Ore.
The Loggers found themselves down by two with 59 seconds to go after a pair of Bearcat free throws gave the home team the lead, its first since the midway through the first half. Half a minute later, Puget Sound tied the contest up thanks to two free throws from Erin Barber. Willamette's Avery Manu missed a jumper with three seconds left and Matt Reid jumped on the rebound for the Loggers. He was fouled and sent to the line with a chance to put the Loggers up with just two seconds remaining. He drained those two shots, and Barber iced the game a second later by making two more free throws.
Before the Loggers had to come back, however, they actually had a double-digit lead with 6:46 remaining in the second half. Willamette fought back from that deficit by forcing Puget Sound into two turnovers and two missed field goals as the Loggers only scored four points during the next three minutes, all of which came from free throws. During that stretch for Willamette, the Bearcats grabbed three rebounds, hit three free throws, and added a three pointer to come within two.
Puget Sound went into the halftime break up eight, leading by a score of 33-25. In the half's final 6:34 they went on a 13-7 run to take that lead, lead by Rex Nelson who scored five of those points. He gave the Loggers the lead at the 6:54 mark by completing a traditional three-point play, finishing off a pass from Barber and getting fouled in the process. He made the resulting free throw to complete the sequence.
Willamette opened the game by scoring the first six points. Three minutes later, the Loggers tied it up at eight apiece, the first of seven tie scores in the game. After the hosts scored the next five points the Loggers answered with five straight of their own and neither team was able to take more than a three point lead for the next four minutes.
Nelson led the Loggers with 14 points, while Nick Holden scored 12 and Barber also hit double figures with 11. Both Nelson and Holden grabbed six rebounds for the Loggers, tying for the team lead, while Holden blocked two shots for his first multi-block game since Jan. 17, also against Willamette.
As a team, the Loggers shot 33.3% from the field, hitting 18 of 54 field goal attempts compared to the Bearcats' 42.4% field goal mark. The Loggers, however, went 81.8% from the free throw line, hitting 27 of 33 attempts from the stripe, to take the victory. That percentage is the team's best since Jan. 11, when they hit 83.3% of their freebies at Whitworth. Barber went a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe, and Reid also shot 100% from there as well, making all four free throws late in the second half.
With the win, the Loggers remain in third place of the Northwest Conference standings, keeping a half-game lead over Lewis & Clark. The Loggers need to finish in the top four in order to clinch a berth in the conference tournament and a shot at the conference's automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament. Lewis & Clark is currently in fourth with an 8-5 record, while George Fox is fifth at 7-6. Both the Loggers and the Bruins have two more games to play while the Pioneers have three games remaining.
Puget Sound (13-10, 9-5 NWC) closes out the regular season next weekend by hosting George Fox Friday, Feb. 21 and Pacific Saturday, Feb. 22. Both games will tip off at 8:00 p.m. at Memorial Fieldhouse in Tacoma, Wash. Before the game against the Boxers Feb. 22, the Loggers will honor all four of its seniors for their hard work and dedication to the Puget Sound basketball program.