by Connor Soudani
After battling a tough Willamette team on Thursday, the men’s basketball team defeated an upstart Lewis & Clark team on Saturday, 69-58, for the Northwest Conference Tournament Championship. In a game with seven lead changes and only a five-point Pirate lead at the half, the contest would come down to the last few minutes before a definitive result could be determined.
With the student section clad in white and the Pirate players sporting their white home jerseys, the setting looked like a good vs. evil matchup out of a movie as Whitworth opposed Lewis & Clark in their black and orange.
Head coach Matt Logie made a change for the starting lineup by starting senior forward Adam Wilks and having freshman guard Matt Staudacher come off the bench.
“We wanted to establish ourselves on the glass early on and really set the tone on the defensive side,” Logie said. “When we were able to go in with Matt and play our traditional lineup, we were able to pick up the pace and the tempo and I thought it worked pretty well.”
Despite winning the tip, the Bucs could not get anything going early offensively. Both teams traded the lead for the first 10 minutes of play with Lewis & Clark forwards Bradley Carter and Carl Appleton providing very physical presences in the paint. In the last Whitworth outing against the Pioneers, Appleton finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds while scoring key baskets to keep Pioneers within striking distance throughout that game.
“It’s tough. [Appleton]’s a huge body and he knows how to use it,” Farnsworth said. “It’s just kind of about working early and trying to fight for position early because if he gets you buried, it’s pretty tough. He can just put you in the rim.”
However, early foul trouble and the Pirates’ effective full-court offensive push proved too much for the slower Lewis & Clark forwards.
“I thought it was important for us tonight against Lewis & Clark to try to play with some tempo and pace and get some things in transition because their defense is so good in the halfcourt,” Logie said. “You got to give your guys some freedom to attack and make plays and fortunately our defense was able to create some opportunities.”
Late scoring runs in the first half along with a 3-point dagger from sophomore guard Kenny Love at the buzzer gave the Pirates a 31-26 advantage after 20 minutes of play.
“We knew that their guards were really an area where we could try and get into the paint and free up things for others,” Love said. “Some of our basic sets where you throw it inside wouldn’t work so we tried to get some advantages there and that was one of them.”
After putting up 13 and six points respectively in the first half, Love and junior forward George Valle effectively took over the Pirate offense for the rest of the game.
Lewis & Clark would end up tying the game at 48 and taking a slim advantage off of a 3-pointer from second-team all-NWC guard Jason Luhnow at 8:08 to take a 51-50 lead. However, after a lay-in by Staudacher to retake the Whitworth lead, 52-51, the lead would never change again.
With the help of three 3-pointers from Luhnow in the last nine minutes, the Pioneers stayed within striking distance, but the performances of Valle and Love in the final 10 minutes made the difference in the end.
As Valle and Love continued to score, three steals and five blocks in the last six and a half minutes for Whitworth iced any chance of a Pioneer comeback. The game ended with the “Hack-a-Pirate” strategy for Lewis & Clark and the student section chanting, “I believe that we will win.”
Love led all scorers with 20 points while Valle, who was Mr. Consistent for the entire game, ended with 19. Valle said the multiple areas of talent from the guard position allowed Love and himself to be successful.
“Since we have so many good shooters, they don’t really like to help off of them if we put a good shooter in each corner. They can only help so much,” Valle said. “With that in their heads, Kenny and I are coming in with a full head of steam, attacking our defender and being able to create some good things.”
The Pirates clinched an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament with their ninth consecutive NWC Tournament crown. The Pirate matchup for the first round was announced on Monday. The men will take on LaGrange College in Atlanta, Georgia on Friday, March 6.