by Matt Spencer | Staff Writer
Whitworth men’s basketball lost the Northwest Conference crown Saturday 83-86 in overtime against second-ranked Whitman in Walla Walla. For the Pirates, the ten-year streak of NWC trophies came to an end in a tightly contested game.
The Pirates (23-4) fought the Blues hard in a game featuring 14 lead changes and 12 ties. After fighting hard for 45 minutes Whitworth was unable to sink two critical threes; one to win the game in last second of regulation and one to tie the game in overtime.
While Whitworth shot better against their in-state rival this time around (46 percent), 26 turnovers proved costly on the offensive end. The Blues lead with full-court pressure for a large chunk of the game. In stretches when the Pirates broke the press they got easy dunks and layups, but over the course of the night Whitman’s defense broke down the Pirates.
Despite the turnovers, Whitworth was still in the game. Immediately after a tough Whitworth turnover, Whitman made a mistake of its own with under two seconds left in regulation. The Pirate in-bounds pass reached its target but the three-point attempt was just off the mark.
On the game, Whitworth out-rebounded their opponents by 10 and was able to limit possessions. The Pirate centers had a strong showing in the matchup. Benny Nick, ‘20, finished the game one rebound away from a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds. Starting center Drew Sears, ‘17, put up 12 points to go with three blocks.
Whitworth had a difficult time containing the Northwest Conference’s Player of the Year, Tim Howell, who had 30 points for the Blues on 14 for 24 shooting. Collectively, Whitworth held Whitman three-point shooters to a low 27 percent on the game.
Moving forward, Whitworth has their eyes now set on tournament play. Whitworth has good reason to feel optimistic about their chances to beat Whitman after coming off a close game on the road.
“We have a lot of experience from past NCAA tournaments but also newfound depth built from this season so we are an extremely confident group right now,” Coach Matt Logie said.
On Monday, the Whitworth men’s basketball team will eagerly await the release of the Division III basketball tournament. The Pirates, who entered the week as the fourth-ranked team in the nation, will likely head right back to Walla Walla to play in a regional with a chance for redemption against conference rival Whitman.