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George Fox rallies to salvage weekend split


DIII basketball — A second-half lull costs the Bruins in a loss at Lewis & Clark, but a home win over Pacific keeps them alive in the Northwest Conference race

With the battle for the four playoff spots in the Northwest Conference already shaping up to be a dogfight just two games into the league schedule, George Fox left itself little room for error after dropping its first conference road game to Pacific Lutheran.

So when the Bruins let a potential win at Lewis & Clark slip through their fingers Friday night to fall to 1-2 in league play, Saturday’s home contest versus Pacific suddenly seemed like a must win.by: SETH GORDON - Bombs away - Forward Seth Brent attempts a three-pointer in George Fox's 80-68 victory over Pacific at Miller Gym on Saturday night.

Add in that title contenders Whitworth and Whitman are set to visit Newberg this weekend, and that GFU’s recent shooting struggles continued in the first half against the Boxers, and the situation was bordering on desperate for the Bruins.

Trailing 35-30 at the break, first-year head coach Maco Hamilton’s squad finally put things together, rallying for a vital 80-68 victory at Miller Gym.

“We needed this win,” senior forward Sean Atkins said. “You can’t go 1-3 in this league with the Whits coming to town. It just wouldn’t be acceptable.”

George Fox had appeared to right the ship following the disappointing loss to PLU as it outscored Lewis & Clark 38-13 over a 12-minute period of the first half on Friday night, lifting it to a 44-33 halftime lead.

But the Bruins did not maintain that level of play and the Pioneers quickly played their way back into the game, taking the lead 63-61 midway through the second stanza.

The game remained close the rest of the way, with Lewis & Clark going on an 11-4 run to pull ahead 74-71 with 4:34 to play.

Despite their second half struggles, A.J. Grant made the front end of a one-and-one to give the Bruins a 78-77 lead with 34.9 seconds left.

Unfortunately, George Fox was not able to hold at the other end, as Randall Jackson sank his only shot of the game with 13 seconds left and Grant’s ensuing attempt at the game winner went astray.

“You have to play hard for 40 minutes,” Atkins said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing or how much you’re winning by. We came out in the second half too flat and tried to come back at the end. You can’t do that. This conference is too good to have lapses like that in your focus.”

Hamilton was pleased with the effort and energy he saw from this team in the first half versus Pacific, but the Bruins went 2-for-10 from beyond the arc to enter the break down five points.

Things turned around immediately in the second half as GFU went on a 10-0 run to quickly seize the lead.

George Fox hounded Pacific with its press and also got hot from the outside, hitting four of its first three-point attempts to open up a double-digit lead.

“We haven’t shot the ball well in three games, but you’re not always going to shoot well, so you have to get it done on the defensive end,” Hamilton said. “At the start of the second half, that run was all predicated on our defense. I think when you start getting stops and easy baskets, everything opens up. That’s what it was.”

Atkins finished with a team-high 19 points, pushing his career total to 1,009, which puts him 34th on the all-time GFU scoring list.

“It was a little goal of mine before the year started,” Atkins said of breaking the 1,000-point barrier. “Now that’s over and it’s all about getting (wins). I want to do something we haven’t done in a long time here.”

Perched in a three-way tie for fourth place, the Bruins (9-4, 2-2 NWC) will welcome league leading Whitworth (10-3, 4-0) to town Friday and second-place Whitman (8-5, 3-1) Saturday night.

“I just feel we can be as good as anyone in this league if we play hard,” Hamilton said. “When we play lethargic, then anybody can beat us.”