Puget Sound Nips Bearcats in Closing Seconds, 75-74

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

SALEM, ORE. -- The University of Puget Sound men's basketball team finished the 2008-09 Northwest Conference season with an undefeated record -- barely -- as the Loggers rallied from a 15-point deficit with 8:34 remaining to defeat Willamette University, 75-74, at Cone Field House on Saturday, Feb. 21.

UPS concluded the regular season with a 22-2 overall record and went 16-0 in the NWC. The Loggers will host a semifinal game in the NWC Tournament on Thursday, Feb. 26. Willamette, which gave UPS its closest NWC game of the season, ended the year at 12-11 overall, 8-8 in the NWC.

Willamette built a 12-2 advantage with 17:34 left in the first half and held a 42-36 halftime lead. The Bearcats remained in front until the closing seconds of the game.

WU owned a 60-45 margin following a 3-pointer by Robbie Kunke (So., PG, Clackamas, OR/Clackamas HS) with 12:00 remaining. Willamette claimed a 66-51 advantage with 8:34 left on a layup by Corey Costantino (Sr., Wing, Ashland, OR/Ashland HS).

Puget Sound scored the next seven points to cut the deficit to eight with 5:40 on the clock. Nick Babij (Sr., Wing, Ontario, OR/Ontario HS) put in a layup for Willamette nine seconds later, but it took UPS just six seconds to respond with a 3-pointer by Robert Krauel, reducing the lead to 68-61.

The teams exchanged the next two baskets, as WU received two points on a layup by Kyler McClary (Sr., Post, Hillsboro, OR/Glencoe HS) and Puget Sound earned three points on a shot by Antwan Williams from behind the arc. With 4:46 to go, Willamette's lead was 70-64.

McClary tacked on a jumper at the 4:18 mark. The Loggers answered with a 4-0 run to pull within 72-70 with 2:10 remaining.

Willamette increased its lead to 74-70 with 1:52 on the clock, when Josh Erickson (Sr., PG, Keizer, OR/McNary HS) hit two free throws. Williams made one of two free throws for UPS with 1:35 to go.

Later, Williams missed a field goal with 1:02 remaining. The ball bounced off the rim, went off several players and was grabbed by Williams. He scored on a short jumper with 58 seconds left to cut the lead to 74-73.

McClary missed a 3-pointer for the 'Cats with 29 seconds left. On the ensuing possession for UPS, Williams drove into the lane and was fouled by Kunke with eight second to go. Williams sank both free throws to give the Loggers a 75-74 lead.

Willamette had two shots at winning the game. Kunke missed an off-balance jumper with two seconds left. Cameron Mitchell (Jr., Post, Portland, OR/Grant HS/U. of Redlands) tipped the rebound and the ball rolled off the rim as time expired.

Puget Sound joined Willamette's 1987-88 team as the only men's basketball squads to complete an NWC season with undefeated records since 1954-55, when the College of Idaho (no longer in the NWC) went 15-0. UPS is the first team to go 16-0 in the NWC.

Willamette was 10-0 in 1987-88 under then first-year Head Coach Gordie James. The 2008-09 season was James' 22nd with the Bearcats.

Krauel of UPS topped all players with 22 points. He was 10 of 13 from the field. Austin Boyce added 11 points and six rebounds for the Loggers.

Williams, who missed his first 11 shots of the game, finished with 10 points. He hit three of his last four field goals and went 3 for 4 at the line -- all in the Loggers' decisive run. He also earned seven assists.

McClary led Willamette with 19 points. He concluded his career 1,104 points in 85 games for an average of 13.0 points per game.

Costantino scored 14 against the Loggers, while connecting on 6 of 9 field goals. Mitchell scored nine points and had nine rebounds. He finished third in the NWC with 16.7 points per game and led the conference with 11.8 rebounds per contest.

Kunke supplied the 'Cats with seven assists and chipped in eight points. Erickson added three assists, eight points and five boards, as WU played much of the game with both point guard on the floor against Puget Sound's pressure defense.

Prior to the game, Willamette honored its six seniors: Babij, Tain Cantrell (Post, Beaverton, OR/Westview HS), Costantino, Simon Currie (Wing, Bend, OR/Mountain View HS), Erickson and McClary. Willamette relied on its seniors to provide quality minutes throughout the year, as four competed in all 23 games and Cantrell played in 22. Currie saw action in six games before a leg injury forced him to miss the remainder of the season.

BOX SCORE
University of Puget Sound 75
Willamette University 74
Senior Kyler McClary achieved 19 points and seven rebounds against UPS. He averaged 13.0 points per game during his Willamette career.

Senior Kyler McClary achieved 19 points and seven rebounds against UPS. He averaged 13.0 points per game during his Willamette career.

Josh Erickson earned eight points, five rebounds and three steals.

Josh Erickson earned eight points, five rebounds and three steals.

Corey Costantino registered 14 points for the Bearcats.

Corey Costantino registered 14 points for the Bearcats.