Written by Mark Colachico, Contributing Writer
SALEM, Ore. – The Willamette University's men's basketball team closed out its 2021 schedule hosting Nebraska Wesleyan University on Thursday evening, Dec. 30, inside Cone Field House. Despite a valiant effort over the opening twenty minutes of play, the Bearcats could not overcome a double-digit deficit in the second half, falling 94-77 to the visiting Prairie Wolves.
Playing its first game in nearly three weeks, Willamette was led by first-year Cedric Coward (F, Fresno, CA/Central HS), who registered his seventh double-double of the season with team-high totals of 22 points, 13 rebounds, and a game-high tying seven assists. The reigning Northwest Conference Student-Athlete of the Week tallied 22 points for the third straight game, added 13 rebounds for the second straight game, and registered a game-high three blocked shots to round out his stat sheet.
Coward was aided offensively by Jack Boydell (Jr., F, Sonoma, CA/Sonoma Valley HS) and Daniel Plumer (Jr., G, North Las Vegas, NV/Democracy Preparatory Academy) with 20 and 14 points, respectively, while Jonathan Watts (Sr., W, San Diego, CA/Rancho Bernardo HS) helped on the boards with six rebounds.
Willamette started the game by jumping out to a quick six-point advantage at 10-4 on a three-pointer by Ryder Hsiung (Fy., G, Honolulu, HI/Punahou School) with just over 17 minutes left in the first half. Over the next four-plus minutes, Nebraska Wesleyan used a 15-4 run to pull ahead by five points, 19-14, on a driving layup by Josh Rogers with 12:51 on the clock.
The visiting Prairie Wolves pushed their lead to as much as seven points (28-21) before the host Bearcats scored seven unanswered points over a two-plus minute stretch, tying the game at 28-28 on a Josiah Frank's (Fy., G, Turlock, CA/John H. Pitman HS) three-pointer with 7:24 remaining in the half. Over the next five minutes, Nebraska Wesleyan outscored Willamette by nine points via an 11-2 run to pull ahead 39-30 on back-to-back free throws by Landon Torneten with 2:47 on the clock. The Bearcats pulled within four points at 39-35 following a 5-0 run that was capped by a Boydell three-pointer with 1:49 left. Unfortunately, that was as close as Willamette would get as Nebraska Wesleyan took an eight-point lead of 43-35 into halftime.
The second half began with Nebraska Wesleyan quickly jumping out to a double-digit lead, 47-37, in the opening two minutes, as Tyler Unger capped the Prairie Wolves' scoring with a second chance lay-in with just under 18 minutes showing on the clock. Willamette clawed its way back to within four points at 52-48 on lay-in by Coward at the 14:48 mark. That would be the smallest deficit for the Bearcats, as Nebraska Wesleyan used a 17-4 run over a span of four minutes to increase its lead to 17 points, 69-52, on a Jack Groeteke three-pointer with 10:48 left in the game.
Willamette cut the visiting Prairie Wolves' lead to single digits, 72-65, on another Coward lay-in, but Nebraska Wesleyan did not allow the Bearcats any closer as they slowly pushed the lead back to 17 points at 94-77 on a pair of free throws by Elijah Thatch with under 13 seconds remaining.
Nebraska Wesleyan was led offensively by Torneten with a game-high 23 points, while Carter Glenn, Peter Lash, and Rogers also scored in double figures with 20, 13, and 11 points, respectively. Lash led all players with a game-high 14 rebounds en route to registering a double-double for the Prairie Wolves, while Glenn equaled Coward's assist total with a game-high tying seven dimes.
With today's result, Willamette falls to 3-7 overall. Meanwhile, Nebraska Wesleyan closes out its Oregon road trip with a 1-1 record, improving to 7-5 on the season.
The Bearcats are scheduled to return to the court on Friday, Jan. 7, with a Northwest Conference game at the University of Puget Sound. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. (PST) in Tacoma, Washington. Willamette will remain in Tacoma to take on Pacific Lutheran University on Saturday, Jan. 8 at 6 p.m.