George Fox manages road split in NWC play
SALEM — With several key returning players and several new pieces, George Fox men's basketball coach Maco Hamilton knows his team has a lot of potential and high expectations, but also a lot of work to put in to live up to those expectations.
That was evident in a pair of road games over the weekend, as the Bruins couldn't keep pace with a Linfield team that was hitting on all cylinders Friday night, but turned around Saturday to fend off Willamette and earn a split in Northwest Conference play.
The Wildcats and Bruins finished third and fourth, respectively, in the league last season, and the first half felt like a continuation of last year's series, with the Bruins taking a 42-39 lead into the break Friday night in McMinnville.
The second half was all Linfield, though, as the hosts shot 65.6 percent from the field, including a six-for-nine effort on three-pointers. The Bruins didn't shoot poorly, making 11 of 20 field goals, but turned the ball over 14 times, which helped the Wildcats put up 12 more shots in the half.
"They're really good and they played really well," Hamilton said of Linfield. "We just have to get better at doing some of the little things that we're required to do to be successful in our system. We haven't mastered that, just some toughness stuff. I think that was clearly exhibited in that game."
The Bruins did have five players score in double figures, led by center Dylan Hamlett with 16, but didn't defend well enough as the Wildcats (6-1, 1-1 NWC) were able to get into the lane for uncontested layups far too regularly.
"We just did do a good job of executing the way that we wanted to defend in the full court and then we didn't do a good job of showing resistance at the back end," Hamilton said. "Those are things that are very much correctable."
The Bruins looked better for much of Saturday's contest at Willamette, especially in the first half, which saw the visitors race to a 42-28 halftime lead. Mason Green-Richards had 14 points in the opening 20 minutes and sophomore transfer Ryan Lacey had 13, with the duo combining to hit four of the team's six first-half three-pointers.
George Fox maintained a 10-point lead for almost the entire second half, but the Bearcats (3-2, 1-1) made a furious rally in the final two minutes, ripping off an 11-2 run to make it 76-75 with nine seconds to play.
"We had a couple of turnovers, we had a goal tend, we missed two front ends of one-and-ones that would have extended the lead to two possessions and they were able to cut it to three points and then to one," Hamilton said.
Willamette quickly fouled, sending freshman point guard Jackson Januik to the line with eight seconds to play. Januik missed the front-end of the one-and-one, but Lacey tipped the rebound out to Johnathan Doutt, who was fouled with five seconds left.
"That play was huge," Hamilton said. "If he doesn't tip that basketball to get the offensive rebound, the outcome may have been different."
Doutt sank both free throws to give GFU a 78-75 lead and Trent Callan's three-pointer at the other end was off the mark to give the Bruins their first conference win of the season.
"We did play better, but we still walked out of that game knowing there's a lot left for us to be able to master and we were fortunate to be able to win that game on the road," Hamilton said. "So we'll take that."
Green-Richards finished with 20 points, Lacey with 17 and Hamlett with 10 for the Bruins (4-3, 1-1), who will have two weeks off before hosting Stockton Dec. 17.
"We're happy, not satisfied and we feel we know the things we need to correct and this two-week stretch coming up is going to be really good," Hamilton said. "It comes at the right time. We'll be able to dial in on some things then we're full speed from there."