TACOMA, Wash.—Despite falling in the regular season finale 58-54 Saturday night at Memorial Fieldhouse, the Puget Sound men's basketball squad will be heading to Whitman for a Northwest Conference tournament semifinal matchup.
The Loggers (14-11, 10-6 NWC) have made the conference tournament two of the last three years, advancing to the final round in 2011-12. In this year's semifinal they take on second-place Whitman, who tallied an 11-5 mark in NWC play. Puget Sound has played Whitman twice this season, falling in overtime 94-87 Jan. 10 and losing 79-71 at home on Feb. 7 to the Missionaries.
Saturday's game against Pacific was an exciting, back-and-fourth affair with four tie scores and 16 lead changes. The hosts jumped out to a 10-5 lead after 5:01 in the first half with five of those points coming from Erin Barber. Pacific answered with two consecutive three-pointers to take a one-point lead at 11-10, and then the lead swapped hands three more times in the next four minutes.
Dan Cheledinas hit a layup with 4:45 remaining in the half to give the Loggers a 22-21 advantage, and they'd hold that lead for the rest of the half. Rex Nelson netted a layup and AJ Maw added a free throw in the final three minutes of the first, but the Boxers' Coby Proctor hit a layup with 43 seconds left to cut the Loggers' advantage to two at 25-23 going into the halftime break.
Coming out of halftime, Puget Sound stayed on top for the first 11:22 of the second half. The Loggers took a pair of five-point leads at the 17:14 and 16:31 marks thanks to field goals from Maw and Cheledinas, and they hit their largest lead of the game at six with 14:31 remaining in regulation when Barber hit a three. The teams swapped three-pointers in the minute and a half after Barber's three-ball, but the Loggers followed up with two field goals to draw within two at 41-39. Puget Sound remained on top for the next minute and a half, but Pacific tied the game at 43 with 8:38 remaining and took its first lead since the first half with 7:54 showing on the clock.
Two more three-pointers from Pacific's Jordan Batey gave the Boxers a four-point lead with 5:05 left in the second half. For the final five minutes the Loggers could only come within two, hitting that margin after a Nelson layup with 4:40 to go and a pair of free throws from Barber with 38 seconds left. Nelson brought the club within two again after hitting a layup with 16 seconds showing on the clock, but Batey hit both free throws after getting fouled to stop the clock to clinch the 58-54 victory for the Loggers
Puget Sound began the night by honoring its' four seniors: Cheledinas, Maw, Nelson, and Philip Thomas, who has not been able to play this season due to injury. Tonight's game marked the last regular season game at Memorial Fieldhouse the seniors could experience. They do have a shot at playing once more at home because if the Loggers win their semi-final and the fourth-seeded Pioneers upset top-ranked Whitworth in the semis, Puget Sound will host Lewis & Clark for the conference championship Saturday, March 1.
Barber and Nelson both scored 12 points to lead the Loggers on the night. Maw hit 11 on his senior day, and Cheledinas added seven. He grabbed 12 rebounds as well, leading the Loggers and tying Pacific's Mitch Wetting for the game high. Also, Maw tallied five assists, his most since dishing out eight Jan. 24 at Pacific.
As a team, the Loggers held Pacific to a 34.5% field goal percentage, marking the 16th time they held an opponent to below 40% from the field. The Boxers also went 26.7% from three-point range, but they still made eight from beyond the arc. In comparison, the Loggers shot 35.7% from the field and 25.0% from three point range. Puget Sound controlled the glass, however, out-rebounding their guests 43-35.
Puget Sound's playoff game at Whitman begins at 8:00 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27. They move on to face the winner of the other semi-final matchup between tournament No. 1 seed Whitworth and No. 4 Lewis & Clark. That game will take place on Whitworth's home floor in Spokane, Wash.