James becomes all-time winningest WU coach in win over UPS

SALEM — Gordie James became the all-time winningest basketball coach in Willamette history Saturday night as the Bearcats held off Puget Sound 71-64 in a Northwest Conference game at Cone Field House.

The victory gave James 278 wins over 16 seasons, surpassing Hall of Fame coach John Lewis, who won 277 games in 20 years from 1947-67. The win also clinched second place in the final NWC standings for the Bearcats (18-6, 12-4 NWC). The Loggers ended the season at 12-13 and 7-9 in conference play.

But Puget Sound almost crashed the party. The Loggers led 32-31 at the half and built a five-point lead early in the second period before the hosts, who are 11-0 at home this season, mounted a rally.

The last tie of the game was at 51-51, following a three-point shot by UPS’ Chase Curtiss with 6:48 remaining. After that, the Bearcats pulled away thanks to the strong game of David Force.

Force scored on a three-point-play at the 4:02 mark to make the score 59-53. He later hit a short bank shot and converted a lay-in with 1:30 remaining to give WU an eight-point cushion at 63-55. Force ended up with a team-high 18 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. He hit 5 of 9 shots from the field and 8 of 9 free throws.

The Bearcats also got 16 points and five assists from Ryan Hepp and 11 points and seven boards from Marques Johnson.

Puget Sound’s Matt Glynn led all scorers with 21 points, and he added six rebounds and four assists. Shelton finished with 18 points.

Willamette out-shot UPS from the field 43.6 percent to 40.8 percent. WU also converted 20 of 26 free throws (76.9%) while the Loggers canned 18 of 25 (72.0%) charity tosses.

The Bearcats host Lewis & Clark on Thursday at 7 p.m. in a match-up of the conference’s third- and second-seeded teams. The winner of that game will play NWC champion Whitworth on Saturday at 8 p.m. for the conference’s automatic berth into the 48-team NCAA Division III tournament.