The men’s basketball team played several games over the winter break, winning five and losing a few close games. While the team currently has six wins compared to 13 losses, Willamette has stayed competitive throughout the season and its players have continued to play well. Since the start of the season, the Bearcats have turned a 0-7 start into a 6-6 and have broken some records along the way.
The first game of the break came on Dec. 20 against the visiting UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs (UCSC). The game opened with a strong 25-17 start for Willamette, but UCSC fired back. Willamette preserved a 40-37 lead going into the half, but the Banana Slugs gained control early in the second half and were able to claim a 63-54 lead with 7:21 left in the game.
Willamette regained its early momentum and mounted an epic comeback. The strike was led by senior forward Jordan Jenkins, who also amassed 23 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in the game. Playing without their starting point guard senior Trent Callan, who in the last two games averaged 14.5 points, three other players stepped up and scored double-digit points for Willamette: senior guard Caleb Roberts, freshman guard Jonathan Watts and sophomore guard Justus Eaglesmith. Roberts made the game’s winning shot, hitting a three-pointer to give Willamette a one-point lead with only 35 seconds to go. This game marked the sixth time out of the last seven matches in which Jenkins scored 20 or more points.
Eight days later on Dec. 28, Willamette hosted the Northwestern Minnesota Eagles in another close contest. Callan returned to action after missing the previous game, scoring a career-high 29 points along with 11 rebounds and five assists. Willamette opened the game with an 8-0 run, but the Eagles answered and trailed by two at halftime. The Eagles took the lead in the opening minutes of the second half. The Bearcats pulled within two points at 83-81 with 4:06 left, but dropped the game, 99-90. Watts and Jenkins both had notable games with 19 and 14 points, respectively. Willamette’s 90 points scored tied their season high. Mark Colachico wrote the recap article of the game and reported that Head Coach Kip Ioane said, “Scoring 90 points is usually enough to win,” Coach Kip said. “Give them credit for being even better offensively than we were.” Willamette scored a new season high at 93 points in another offensive shootout the following week against Linfield College. While Linfield prevailed behind its 100 points, Willamette had five players who scored double-digit points.
After two frustrating defeats, Willamette’s high offensive output finally translated into a stunning 113-98 victory at Pacific University just four days later on Jan. 8. This time, six players scored in the double digits: Jenkins, Callan, Eaglesmith, Watts, Barba and sophomore Ryan Peterson who led the way with 18 points, going nine for 10 from the field. In fact, the 113 points scored were the most scored by the team since Feb. 23, 2008.
Willamette’s offense wasn’t done breaking records just yet. On Jan. 12, Willamette put up 126 points in a crushing 66 point victory over the visiting Northwest Indian College Eagles. This was the third-highest scoring game in the Willamette men’s basketball team’s history. Five players off the bench had double-digit scoring nights, including Barba (24 points), sophomore Will Huntington (10 points), Eaglesmith (23 points), sophomore forward Ben Sutton (10 points) and freshman guard Dylan Streett (11 points). The team went 50 percent from the three-point line led by Barba, who went eight for 14 in his attempts.
Willamette dropped its next game, losing to Lewis and Clark College, 73-80, before scoring another victory seven days later at home on versus George Fox University. The 88-74 contest was lower-scoring than Willamette’s previous two victories, but four players still had double-digit games. Jenkins led the offensive strike with 21 points and logged a double-double.
This past Saturday, Jan. 26, Willamette played the 16-3 Whitworth Pirates at home. After a strong first half, Willamette lead the Pirates 50-43. Whitworth, ranked #5 on the Top 25 list on D3hoops.com and second in the Northwest Conference, was not going to go down without a fight. Willamette found its response to Whitworth’s second-half surge with the support of five players who had incredible games: Jenkins (22 points), Callan (11 points), Eaglesmith (18 points), Watts (19 points) and Sutton (12 points). Eaglesmith made the deciding three-pointer to take a 91-88 lead with 58 seconds left and then made four free throws in the final 18 seconds to seal the victory for Willamette. With the victory, Willamette moved to 6-13 on the season with six games remaining in the season.
The Willamette men’s basketball team’s next challenge will be at home versus Pacific Lutheran University on Friday, Feb. 1, at 8 p.m.