Willamette Slips Past Linfield, 61-58, With Free Throws in Final Minute

By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

McMINNVILLE, ORE. -- Three Willamette University players combined to go five of six at the free throw line in the final minute, leading the Bearcats to a 61-58 road victory over Linfield College on Tuesday, Jan. 6. The Bearcats improved to 6-3, while winning their sixth consecutive game. WU also upped its Northwest Conference record 2-0, with both wins on the road.

Linfield fell to 2-8 overall. The Wildcats dropped to 0-2 in the conference.

The game was tied at 56-56 following a turn-around jumper by K.C. Wiser of Linfield with 1:06 remaining. Willamette's Nick Babij (Sr., Wing, Ontario, CA/Ontario HS) was fouled by Austin Hunt near the sideline with 49.2 seconds left. Babij made both charity shots, giving WU the lead for good.

Linfield committed a turnover with the shot clock running down and just over 13 seconds left. Josh Erickson (Sr., PG, Keizer, OR/McNary HS) took the in-bounds pass and was fouled immediately. He tacked on two free throws to give WU a 60-56 margin.

Jon Weber scored for the Wildcats with seven seconds remaining. Linfield fouled quickly, sending Robbie Kunkie (So., PG, Clackamas, OR/Clackamas HS) to the charity stripe in the double bonus with 6.5 seconds on the clock. Kunkie nailed the first of two free throws for a 61-58 Willamette lead.

After rebounding the second shot, the Wildcats looked for a game-tying three-pointer. Weber launched an attempt from about 22 feet with a few seconds left. The shot bounced off the rim and was rebounded by Tain Cantrell (Sr., Post, Beaverton, OR/Westview HS) for the Bearcats as time expired.

Kyler McClary (Sr., Post, Hillsboro, OR/Glencoe HS) was WU's top scorer with 18 points. He also hauled down eight rebounds. Erickson added 11 points and made 3 of 4 three-pointers.

The NWC's leading scorer and rebounder, Cameron Mitchell (Jr., Post, Portland, OR/Grant HS/U. of Redlands) of Willamette, was held to eight points, but grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds. As a team, Willamette outrebounded Linfield, 35-30.

Wiser topped Linfield with 22 points. He was 11 of 16 from the field. Weber tallied 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Wildcats.

In the first half, Willamette led 8-4 with 14:42 remaining. Mitchell scored four points during the early run on a layup and a put back.

The Wildcats recorded the next five points to claim a 9-8 advantage, and the score remained close for the remainder of the half. Willamette went into the intermission with a 27-25 lead, following a 3-point basket by Erickson (Sr., PG, Keizer, OR/McNary HS) with five seconds left in the period.

Linfield surged out to a 37-32 advantage at the 13:25 mark of the second half. The Wildcats began the stanza with a 12-5 run that included six points by Wiser and four points from Drew Schroeder.

WU achieved the next seven points for a 39-37 lead. Kunkie started the run with a pair of driving layups to reduce the lead to a single point. Erickson moved the Bearcats in front with a 3-point basket as the clock reached 10:30 to go.

Weber connected on a 3-pointer to put Linfield ahead. The trifecta started an 8-2 run by the Wildcats. Willamette trailed 45-41 at the 9:07 mark.

Another offensive surge gave WU the lead. The Bearcats scored eight straight points and claimed a 49-45 advantage with 5:13 left.

The back-and-forth battle continued. Linfield tied the score at 49-49, but fell behind when McClary sank a 3-pointer with 3:00 on the clock. Hunt equalized with a trifecta for the Wildcats nine second later. Cantrell put WU in front, 53-52, by hitting the first of two free throws just seven second after Hunt scored.

Linfield held its final lead at 54-53, following a 12-foot jump shot by Wiser with 2:12 remaining. McClary provided Willamette with a basket and a foul shot at the 1:19 mark, only to have Wiser tie the score 13 second later. WU's successful foul shooting the rest of the way provided the difference.

Willamette will play its NWC home opener on Friday, Jan. 9 against defending conference champion Whitworth University. Game time at the Sparks Center is set for 8 p.m. (PST). The Bearcats will remain at home on Saturday, Jan. 10 to host Whitman College in another NWC game at 6 p.m. (PST).

Willamette University 61
Linfield College 58
Nick Babij played 27 minutes against Linfield. He made two free throws with 49.2 seconds left to give Willamette the lead for good.

Nick Babij played 27 minutes against Linfield. He made two free throws with 49.2 seconds left to give Willamette the lead for good.

Josh Erickson hit 3 of 4 three-point shots for the Bearcats.

Josh Erickson hit 3 of 4 three-point shots for the Bearcats.