By Christian Bond, PLU Sports Information Student Writer
PARKLAND – Pacific Lutheran made a season-high 12 3-pointers and closed the game on a 39-11 run to turn a one-point lead into an 87-58 blowout of Willamette Friday night in Northwest Conference men's basketball action at Names Family Court.
Strong ball movement was apparent for PLU as the team collected 14 assists on the night, with Erik Swartout's five leading the way. The Lutes shot 54.5 percent (12-of-22) from 3-point range for the game. In the second half, the Lutes pulled away from the Bearcats courtesy of a 7-10 (70 percent) shooting performance from beyond the arc. Overall, the Lutes shot 56.3 percent in the second half (18-of-32) and 49.2 percent for the game (31-of-63).
"What we try to get these guys to understand before the game is that when we push the ball, a lot of teams lose our shooters in transition," PLU assistant coach Brian Kovacevich said. "We pride ourselves on sharing the ball. We put in a lot of guys and shuffled a lot of guys around tonight, and it was just a great overall team effort."
PLU had five players score in double figures against Willamette. Bryce Miller had a double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Miller also had five blocks, all in the first half of play. Brandon Lester had 13 points on the night, contributing three long-range buckets to the team's season high 3-point total. Kyle Sawtell had 15 points off the bench, including a team-best four 3-pointers. Dylan Foreman tied for the game-high point total with 17. Jared Christy had a perfect night shooting the basketball as the freshman was 7-of-7 from the field. Christy was a dead-eye shooter from long-range as well, sinking three 3-pointers.
"I had a rough shooting game in our last game against Puget Sound," Christy said. "My teammates had confidence in me; they kept feeding me the ball, telling me to shoot and to play with confidence. They just went in tonight."
Defensively the Lutes held Willamette to 30 percent (21-of-69) from the field. PLU forced the Bearcats to turn the ball over 20 times. The Lutes took advantage of those extra opportunities, scoring 33 points off turnovers compared to only six for Willamette. PLU also had its way underneath the basket, as the Lutes outscored Willamette 34-18 in the paint.
The Lutes built a 13-point lead early in the second half before Willamette rallied with a 14-2 run to pull within one with 14:23 to play. A few minutes later a Bearcat 3-pointer again made it a one-point game at 48-47 before a Swartout layup sparked a 12-point PLU run that featured eight straight points by Foreman courtesy of two 3's and two free throws. PLU never looked back from there, pulling away to its biggest NWC margin of victory in four years.
PLU hosts a pair of games next weekend, as George Fox comes to town Friday night for an 8 p.m. matchup. Linfield visits Olsen Gymnasium Saturday, with tipoff set for 6 p.m.
"We are starting to learn; it's a process as the season goes along," Kovacevich said. "Our guys are understanding what they need to do, in order to prepare themselves. We talked a lot about excitement before the game, on the bench and out on the court. Our guys need to play with a constant energy throughout the whole game."