By Charlie McGuire, Athletic Communications Assistant
CHICAGO, Ill. – Senior Jonathan Watts (W, San Diego, CA/Rancho Bernardo HS) returned to the lineup to score a game-high 23 points as the Willamette University men's basketball team made a late run at Denison University (Ohio) on Sunday, Nov. 21 at the Midway Classic in Chicago, Illinois. The Big Red kept its composure to hold off the Bearcats, 98-88, to move to 1-4 on the season while Willamette slipped to 2-3 overall.
Watts, who scored three points in 17 minutes against the University of Chicago on Saturday, doubled his minutes and increased his scoring against Denison. He led the way on Sunday with a double-double, recording 12 rebounds to go with his 23 points, adding two assists and a pair of steals. Watts missed all but four games in 2019-20 due to an injury and did not play in the spring of 2021, also due to an injury. His first games back were this weekend.
On Sunday, Daniel Plumer (Jr., PG, North Las Vegas, NV/Democracy Preparatory Academy) turned in another strong performance with 17 points, hitting a trio of 3-pointers. Jack Boydell (Jr., F, Sonoma, CA/Sonoma Valley HS) went 7 for 8 from the free throw line to finish with 16 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
Denison jumped out to a 15-5 lead in the opening five minutes and led by nine at the midpoint of the first half. The Bearcats used solid free throw shooting to keep the Big Red in striking distance. Meelad Doroodchi (So., F, Mooresville, N.C./Pine Lake Preparatory) knocked down a 3-pointer at the four-minute mark and Boydell made a steal and hit a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 36-32.
The Big Red stretched the lead back to 12 points with just under two minutes to play before Willamette went on another run to close out the half. Plumer hit a layup in the closing seconds as the Bearcats outscored the Big Red, 9-0, in the final 1:23 to make Denison's lead 46-43 at the break.
Watts scored on the first possession of the second half to quickly cut the margin to one. A Plumer 3-pointer later pulled Willamette within four at the 13:31 mark at 60-56. The Big Red held the lead throughout the second half, but the Bearcats kept the deficit to single digits until Denison went in front, 83-73, with 5:19 on the clock.
The Bearcats were not done yet, however, pulling within five at 86-81 on a Josiah Frank (Fy., G, Turlock, CA/John H. Pitman HS) rebound and score with 2:40 left in regulation. They kept the pressure on but were forced to put Denison on the line. The Big Red was able to convert 6 of 9 free throws and hold on for their first win of the season.
Frank would also finish in double-figures, going 4 for 7 from the field for 10 points. Cedric Coward (Fy., F, Fresno, CA/Central HS) added seven points, seven rebounds, and four blocked shots, while Kenny Wright Jr. (So., PG, Dallas, Texas/R.L. Turner HS) went 3 for 3 from the floor and 2 for 2 from the line to finish with eight points.
Head Coach Kip Ioane was pleased with his team's performance. "I'm proud of the kids bouncing back from Saturday," he said. "We competed our tails off today. A couple of breaks here or there when it was 86-81 late and we could have come away with a W."
The Bearcats return to action on Friday, Dec. 3, opening Northwest Conference play at home against Whitman College. Opening tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. (PST) at Cone Field House.