Bearcats storm back to knock off No. 13 Whitworth, 66-56

SALEM — Willamette rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to hand 13th-ranked Whitworth a 66-56 Northwest Conference men’s basketball defeat at Cone Field House on Saturday.

While Whitworth still held on to first place in the NWC, the decision tightened up the race considerably for the regular season championship. Willamette improved to 16-5 overall and 10-3 in the conference, while Whitworth fell to 20-3 and 11-3, respectively.

The Bearcats continue to be in charge of their own destiny. If WU can win its final three games of the season next week, they would clinch at least tie for the NWC championship.

But the Bearcats were thinking of anything but a championship at halftime. Whitworth controlled the first half, running off 13 straight points to take a 24-12 lead. The Pirates’ Chase Williams had 17 points in the first period, including a three-point buzzer beater from halfcourt.

Whitworth shot 63.6 percent from the field in the first half and forced the Bearcats into 13 turnovers before the break. But the second half was all Willamette after the first few minutes.

The Bearcats went ahead for good at the 7:21 mark when B.J. Dobrkovsky scored a lay-up off a feed from Miles Sandgathe, making the score 44-42. But the margin stayed close for the next few minutes as the two teams combined to make 28 straight free throws since the start of the game.

Whitworth’s Bryan Depew hit four straight free throws to keep the visitors within range at 50-48 with 4:35 remaining before Willamette began to pull away.

The Bearcats scored the next seven points of the game as Johnson converted a three-point play on the inside, Harold Sublett Jr. hit a pair of free throws and Ryan Hepp scored on a breakaway lay-in. Williams narrowed the gap to 57-50 with two charity tosses with 3:25 left, before WU went on another spurt.

Dobrkovsky hit two free throws with 3:04 left and Sandgathe converted three of four foul shots to give the Bearcats a commanding 62-50 edge with 2:11 remaining.

Willamette ended up out-rebounding Whitworth 32-16. The Pirates shot just 20.0 percent from the field in the second half, while WU shot 61.9 percent.

Williams led all scorers with 23 points and Depew added 18.

The Bearcats got 22 points from Sandgathe. Johnson added 14 points and 10 boards and Sublett Jr. finished with 12 points and six rebounds. The latter made 5 of 6 shots from the field.

Willamette ended up out-shooting Whitworth for the game, 53.7 percent to 40.4 percent. The Pirates made all 15 free throws, while Willamette converted 20 of 23.

The Bearcats play at Pacific on Tuesday.