by Corina Gebbers
The Whitworth men’s basketball team found something sweet in Belton, Texas, on March 2 and 3 when it knocked McMurry University and Trinity University out of the NCAA Division III Tournament. The Pirates improved their record to 26-3 overall and for the third consecutive year are headed to the Sweet 16.
The Bucs found an advantage in the paint against a quick and scrappy McMurry defense Friday night as senior post Felix Friedt scored a career-high 35 points to lead the Pirates to a 90-79 victory over the War Hawks. Friedt went 16 for 17 from the line and 9 for 16 from the field.
“Felix was tremendous throughout the night,” head coach Matt Logie said. “With the amount of pressure that McMurry puts on the basketball, it was very important that we had an outlet inside to relieve that pressure.”
Senior forward Jack Loofburrow hit a 3-pointer to regain the lead after McMurry tied the game at nine five minutes into the first half. The War Hawks were quick to answer, scoring six points to Whitworth’s two. As the top rebounding team in the nation, McMurry challenged Whitworth on the boards.
“The plan was to crash the glass with all five players,” Friedt said. “It was a rough battle, but we had everyone fight together.”
Friedt scored his 10th point of the half with 10 minutes to go off a three-point play. Sophomore guard Dustin McConnell scored a bucket for the Pirates to help energize a run, and Whitworth went up 29-22 when junior guard Wade Gebbers earned his first points of the game on a drive to the basket.
The War Hawks weren’t easily shut down and went on a 10-4 run against the Bucs. It was senior forward Idris Lasisi who broke the McMurry momentum when he threw down a message-sending dunk off an assist from McConnell. Then with just six seconds remaining in the half, Lasisi hit a baseline jumper to give the Pirates a 41- 37 advantage.
“In the first half we got rushed,”Friedt said.“But[we] played more controlled in the second half.”
Whitworth scored in bunches to stretch its lead to as many as 11 points after halftime. Friedt had five consecutive points, Gebbers drove the lane and scored, and sophomore guard Colton McCargar came off the bench contributing five points to open up the second half for the Bucs. McMurry would answer with its own flurry of baskets, but Whitworth held its own and sustained the lead the entire half.
“We were able to maintain our lead throughout the second half and withstand a few runs from McMurry despite making some uncharacteristic turnovers,” Logie said.
With just six minutes remaining, the War Hawks bounced back to within six points and by the 2:30 mark were within four points of Whitworth’s lead. Lasisi scored four consecutive points to fuel Whitworth late in the game, and Friedt put away the game for good with four points from the foul line in the final minute of play.
Whitworth outrebounded McMurry 41-38 and shot 82 percent from the stripe to earn a spot in Saturday night’s game. Lasisi scored 15 points for the Bucs, while Gebbers added 11 and McConnell dished three assists.
In Saturday night’s matchup against Trinity, Whitworth’s strong defense carried them 64-53 over the Tigers. Trinity came in confident after upsetting the No. 10-ranked host school University of Mary Hardin-Baylor the night before.
“We executed really well defensively and didn’t give them many easy looks,” Lasisi said.
Whitworth came out energized, finding an 8-3 lead off a Friedt bucket and treys by Lasisi and junior forward Mack Larkin. The Bucs were sparked by 17 of Lasisi’s game-high 22 points to maintain a steady lead throughout the first half.
“We are fortunate that the NWC plays its league games on Friday and Saturdays,” Logie said. “We are very accustomed to the quick turnarounds and how to go about preparing ourselves for those situations.”
Lasisi opened the second half with two 3-pointers, but the Bucs’ offensive momentum decelerated and Trinity made a huge comeback, closing the 20-point gap to just three with under seven minutes remaining.
“We rushed things on offense and had some turnovers,” Lasisi said. “Because of our bad offense we weren’t as focused as we should be on defense.”
Whitworth called a timeout in an attempt to freeze the Tigers’ offensive streak. Loofburrow responded by netting eight points.
“Our players really responded on the defensive end following that break and put some stops together which got us going offensively,” Logie said.
Loofburrow’s surge for the Bucs was enough to help Whitworth regain a 13-point lead, and execution on the defensive end denied Trinity any comeback opportunity.
Whitworth kept the Tigers off the free throw line for the entire first half, while also forcing its opponent to shoot 38 percent from the field. Loofburrow contributed 13 points for the Bucs on the offensive end, while Friedt added 12 and Gebbers dished seven assists.
Whitworth will face Virginia Wesleyan College in the Sweet 16 on March 9 in the Sectional Semifinals at Wisconsin-Whitewater in Wisconsin.
Contact Corina Gebbers at email@example.com.