December 22, 2011

Lutes Make it Close but Wheaton Prevails

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Pacific Lutheran battled highly regard Wheaton (Ill.) on even terms for 40 minutes on Thursday afternoon, but the Thunder made a couple of big plays in the final seconds to hold on for a 70-65 victory in the final day of action at Trinity University's National Invitational Basketball Tournament.

Wheaton, ranked 28th in the national poll, improves its season record to 9-2, while the Lutes fall to 6-6.

Wheaton held a 66-62 lead when Cameron Reister buried a three-point bomb with 12 seconds remaining to pull the Lutes to within a point. With seven seconds left, Tad Fisher hit a pair of free throws to give the Thunder a 68-65 lead. PLU had an opportunity to tie the game with a three-point basket but instead turned the ball over, resulting in a game-ending steal and dunk by Aaron Garriott.

The teams traded baskets in the early going before Zachary Klein and Drew Earnest buried three-point shots to push the Lutes ahead, 13-7. James Conti added a free throw moments later and PLU had its largest lead of the first half at 14-7 about six minutes into the contest.

Wheaton whittled away at its deficit and eventually took its largest lead of the half at 30-24 on Tim McCrary's free throws with 5:04 on the clock.

Wheaton led by as many as eight points on several occasions in the second half, the last time at 54-46 on McCrary's basket with 7:39 remaining. Pacific Lutheran replied, however, getting six points from Cameron Schilling and four more from Klein before a three-point shot by Conti put the Lutes on top, 62-61, with 1:41 to play.

Conti, PLU's senior point guard and unquestioned team leader, fouled out of the game 18 seconds later, and moments later Jeremy Pflederer nailed a three-ball to give Wheaton a 64-62 advantage. A Pacific Lutheran miss, Schilling's fifth foul of the game, and Fisher's free throws followed, leading to the final harried seconds.

Schilling led the Lutes with 15 points, followed by Earnest with 13 and Klein with 12 off of the bench. Earnest knocked down all three of his three-point attempts and finished the tournament 11-for-12 from beyond the arc in Webster Gym.

Conti finished the game with nine points, five assists and three steals, and Schilling paced the team with six rebounds. PLU shot 49 percent (23-for-47) from the field and continued its outstanding marksmanship from three-point land with 64 percent accuracy (9-for-14). The Lutes hurt themselves at the foul line, shooting 10-for-17.

McCrary led Wheaton with 20 points, including a perfect 10-for-10 from the charity stripe. The Thunder shot the ball extremely well in all phases, hitting 56 percent from the field (24-for-43), 50 percent from three-point range (6-for-12) and 89 percent (16-for-18) at the foul line.

Wheaton also owned a 26-19 rebounding advantage, though the Lutes won the turnover battle, committing just nine compared to Wheaton's 13.

PLU is off for the remainder of December and returns to action on Friday, Jan. 6, when it hosts nationally ranked and defending champion Whitworth in Northwest Conference action.

- PLU -