Willamette ekes out double overtime win over Lewis & Clark; heads to Whitworth with NCAA berth on the line

SALEM — Willamette survived three players fouling out and some key missed free throws by Lewis & Clark to pull out a 79-74 double-overtime victory over the Pioneers in a Northwest Conference playoff game in Cone Field House.

The victory propelled the Bearcats into the NWC tournament championship game on Saturday (8 p.m.) at regular-season champion Whitworth (22-3). Willamette improved to 19-6 on the season while L&C ended the campaign at 16-10.

The Bearcats got 25 points and six assists from senior point guard Ryan Hepp, who was the only played to play all 50 minutes. Marques Johnson added 14 points and 14 rebounds before fouling out with 1:12 to play in the second overtime.

Johnson’s fifth foul put L&C’s Colin Oriard to the line, where he converted both free throws to bring the Pios to within a point at 75-74. Hepp stretched the lead to 77-74 with two free throws of his own with 44 seconds remaining.

On Lewis & Clark’s next possession, WU’s B.J. Dobrkovsky drew an offensive foul on the Pioneers’ Kristofer Speier. After the Bearcats inbounded in back court, David Force was fouled with 28 seconds left. He hit both ends of a one-and-one free throw opportunity to provide the final points of the game.

Lewis & Clark received typical dominating performances from Speier and Oriard, who were responsible for fouling out the Bearcats’ Johnson, Miles Sandgathe and Ryan Rahlfs. Speier scored 19 of his game-high 30 points in the second half, hitting 13 of 20 shots for the game. Oriard added 16 points and a game-high 15 boards.

Willamette also got 11 points and seven rebounds from Harold Sublett Jr. He also had four assists and four steals and did not commit a turnover. Rahlfs came off the bench to add 10 points for WU.

Willamette was whistled for 22 fouls, compared to just 14 for the Pioneers, but the visitors couldn’t capitalize on the biggest opportunities. L&C made just 15 of 24 free throws (62.5%), while WU canned 10 of 12 (83.3%) charity tosses.

With 27 seconds left in regulation, Rahlfs drew his fifth foul and sent Speier to the line with the score 59-59. However, Speier missed both attempts. The Bearcats missed three hurried shots to win the game in the closing seconds.

In the first overtime, Speier made the second of two free throws with 0.9 seconds remaining to tie the score at 68-68. Speier took a lob pass over the top of the Willamette defense and was headed for the game-winning lay-in when Sandgathe raked Speier’s arms, drawing his fifth foul.

Also in the first extra period, L&C had a 67-66 lead and the ball with the shot clock turned off. Force deflected a pass about 30 feet from the basket, Hepp stole the ball near mid-court and went the length of the rest of the way to make it 68-67 with 8.3 seconds left.

Willamette shot just 41.0 percent from the field for the game, compared to 46.4 percent for Lewis & Clark. But the Bearcats did a much better job of taking care of the ball. L&C had 16 turnovers and WU had just six.