PORTLAND – A big night from Brandon Lester combined with a near-perfect team effort from the free throw line led to a postseason berth-clinching Northwest Conference win for the Pacific Lutheran men's basketball team Saturday night as the Lutes edged Lewis & Clark 66-65 at Pamplin Sports Center.
The win over Lewis & Clark moves PLU to 16-7 overall on the season, the program's most wins since reaching 17 during the 1997-98 season. The Lutes have gone 9-5 in conference play, securing a four-game lead over the fifth place spot in the standings with two games remaining in the regular season. That clinched a Northwest Conference playoff berth for the Lutes for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
"We told them after the game that this group has worked extremely hard," PLU head coach Steve Dickerson said. "Some of them have been working towards this for four years, some three, some two. This group is very deserving."
The Lutes scored the first seven points of the game and maintained their lead for the first 30 minutes of the game. Lewis & Clark rallied back to tie the game at 48-48 with 11:45 left, and from that point the two teams battled as the game saw two ties and four lead changes. PLU stretched its lead back to six with 2:22 to go, but after a layup and a 3-pointer the Pioneers brought the game back to within one point with 54 seconds remaining. The Lutes missed their next two shots as they tried to extend the lead, but consecutive offensive rebounds for PLU forced the Pioneers to foul with seven seconds left and send Lester to the free throw line. Lester sank both free throws to stretch the lead to three, with those free throws proving to be the game-winning points.
Lester erupted for a game-high 28 points. He was on from long-range, shooting 5-of-9 from 3-point land. Dylan Foreman scored 14 points while going 5-of-8 from the field. Bryce Miller recorded his eighth double-double of the season, scoring 13 points and grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds.
Lewis & Clark held narrow advantages over PLU in shooting percentages from both the field and from 3-point range. The Pioneers shot 44.6 percent (25-of-56) from the field, besting the Lutes 42.6 percent (23-of-54) field goal percentage. Lewis & Clark also shot better from deep, finishing the game with a 41.2 percent (7-of-17) performance, as the Lutes shot 36.4 percent (8-of-22) on 3-pointers. PLU separated itself at the free throw line, shooting 92.3 percent (12-of-13), while Lewis & Clark shot 61.5 percent (8-of-13) at the stripe. PLU's starting lineup was perfect from the free throw line, sinking all 11 attempts.
"I knew at practice on Thursday that they were really tuned in to what we were doing," Dickerson said. "Brandon had a monster game, Bryce had another double-double, Dylan was good again. Our bench contributed to the win. It was another good all-around team effort that led to good things for us."
PLU hosts Whitman and Whitworth in its final regular season homestead of the year next weekend. The Lutes will take on the Missionaries of Whitman on Friday, with tip-off set for 8 p.m. Saturday, the Lutes will celebrate the careers of their three seniors prior to tipoff against Whitworth, with the game schedule for a 6 p.m. start.