Written by Student Assistant Christian Bond
TACOMA, Wash. – With the final spot in the Northwest Conference Tournament on the line, the Pacific Lutheran University men's basketball team fought till the end on Friday night but were ultimately knocked out by Linfield College, 80-72, inside Olson Gymnasium.
Linfield (14-10, 8-7 NWC) was deadly from deep in the first half, going seven-for-12 from beyond the arc. PLU (12-13, 7-9 NWC) struggled to get things going in the first half, shooting 33.3 percent from the field (seven-for-21) and just one-for-five from the perimeter, trailing 36-21 at the half.
"We weren't cutting and moving like we were on Tuesday night." PLU Assistant Coach Arvid Isaksen said. "We could have pushed and looked early for better shots. We got stagnant and ran the shot clock down and were forced into a tough shot or turned the ball over."
PLU's shooting picked up tremendously in the second half, shooting 53.1 percent (17-for-32) from the field. The Lutes found their range in the final 20 minutes, knocking down six three point shots. At one point, the Lutes were down 22 points in the second half. They were able to cut the lead to seven, but it wasn't enough.
Four Lutes scored in double figures, with a majority of the offense coming in the second half. Brandon Lester led the way with 14 points. The guard finished the game four-for-seven from the field, making all four of his free throw attempts. He entered the game with 1,488 career points. With 10 seconds left, he knocked down a deep three, pushing him past the 1,500-point milestone, becoming just the seventh Lute to do so. Lester finished his career with 1,502 points along with a school record 259 three-pointers.
Tyson Birrer was great for the Lutes. Birrer attacked the rim, going six-for-12 on the evening with 15 points. Andrew Ardissone tied a career-high in points, scoring 12 in his final game in a Lute uniform. He was five-for-seven from the field, knocking down two three's.
Garth West was sensational for the Lutes. The big man from Big Sky Country got the start, and made an impact in the first half on defense, blocking three shots while pulling in six rebounds. He finished with his second career double-double, gathering 11 rebounds while scoring 10 points.
"Garth played great tonight," Isaksen said. "They're a big team, and a team Garth can play against. I thought he ran the court well. He was a shot blocking presence, which we missed earlier in the season. He brought all his energy tonight and played his heart out."
With the loss, PLU finishes fifth in the Northwest Conference standings, missing the conference tournament by one spot.
"They are such good kids," PLU Head Coach Steve Dickerson said. "The seniors were in tears in the team room after the game. It means a lot to them to be on this team and be together. These kids don't quit."
The game was the career finale for seniors Brandon Lester, Kyle Sawtell, Andrew Ardissone, Garth West, and Erik Swartout along with the final game on the sidelines for Head Coach Steve Dickerson, who is retiring in May. Dickerson's legacy includes 46 years instructing young men on the hardwood, 14 coming at PLU, including the last 11 as head coach.