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George Fox rallies late to beat Willamette and holds off Puget Sound to move into three-way tie for third place

Having already dropped three Northwest Conference contests just six games into the league schedule and coming off an embarrassing loss to second-place Whitman, George Fox could not afford another loss over the weekend.

The Bruins had to dig deep, mustering a 17-4 run in the final two and a half minutes, to beat seventh-place Willamette in Salem Friday, then dispatched third-place Puget Sound 89-77 Saturday night at Miller Gymnasium. by: SETH GORDON - Running the gauntlet - Spencer Bolte is fouled on his way to the basket Saturday night during George Fox's 89-77 victory over visiting Puget Sound at Miller Gym. Bolte paced the Bruins, who are now tied for third place in the Northwest Conference with the Loggers and Lewis & Clark, with 27 points.

“We had a really good week of practice, our best so far this year,” first-year head coach Maco Hamilton said. “We talked about starting over and playing with consistency as far as our effort and execution. These games were very good. We had different ways we won, but what I love about it was the effort and the way we played hard for 40 minutes both nights.”

The Bearcats opened the weekend by shooting a sizzling 60 percent from the field, including a 6-for-10 effort from three-point range, in the first half on Friday en route to a 46-35 advantage.

That number rose to 63 percent in the second half, helping Willamette to maintain its lead, but the Bruins refused to go away, rallying to within in four points at 67-63 with just under nine minutes to play.

The Bearcats answered with an 8-0 run over the next two minutes to push their lead back to 12 points and were up 89-79 with 2:35 to play when everything came together for George Fox.

Johnny Howard and Jason Martin combined to score the next 11 points of the game, including three three-pointers, to lift GFU to a 90-89 lead with 55 seconds remaining.

The lead swapped three more times before it was over, with Avery Manu connecting on a field goal with 12 seconds left to make it 93-92 in favor of the home side.

A.J. Grant, who scored a game-high 26 points, took the initiative for the Bruins, driving to the lane, but had his shot blocked by Kyle McNally.

With a relatively small roster, George Fox has struggled with rebounding at times this season, but on Friday night they were demons on the offensive glass. It was only fitting then that Spencer Bolte nabbed the team’s 16th offensive rebound and was fouled.

The senior nailed both free throws to take the lead 94-93 and Grant added two more after Willamette’s ensuing inbounds pass hit the back of the backboard for a turnover, forcing the Bearcats to foul.

“A.J. did a great job getting to the basket and it was just lucky I grabbed a huge rebound,” Bolte said. “I probably pushed a few people out of the way to get it. I was surprised the refs called a foul — it’s hard to dictate a game based on a foul like that — but we were fortunate to come away with a win.”

Both George Fox and Puget Sound struggled mightily in the first half of Saturday night’s contest in Newberg, with the Bruins taking a 35-31 lead into the second half.

Erin Barber almost singlehandedly kept the Loggers in the game, pouring in 22 of his game-high 33 points in the second half, but sparked by some easy transition baskets and a few treys that finally went down, GFU exploded for 18 points in five minutes to pull away 69-53. Puget Sound kept pushing, but the Bruins never let their lead dwindle under 10 points from then on.

“What I say is we’re like a team soaked in gasoline, it just takes one spark to ignite and we’re just going to go from there,” Bolte said.

Bolte scored 27 points and Grant added 13 for the Bruins (11-5, 5-3 NWC), who now sit in third place alongside the Loggers and Lewis & Clark, heading into the second round of conference games, which got underway Tuesday when GFU traveled to Linfield (results unavailable at press time).

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