by James Silberman
In a wild night of basketball, the Whitworth men brought home the NWC Tournament title, fighting off an upstart Puget Sound team, 71-68.
Whitworth came in as the tournament favorite following a 14-2 regular-season finish and fifth-consecutive regular season title. They took care of Lewis & Clark 87-62, who they had lost to the previous week. Freshman guard Christian Jurlina had 23 points, four rebounds and four assists, senior guard Colton McCargar scored 22, while senior point guard Dustin McConnell added 15 points and eight assists.
“We were able to see some things on film and correct them and worked to correct them,” McConnell said. “I also thought we did a better job of trusting each other and moving the ball on offense.”
Despite their early success, the men’s team did not have it as easy on championship Saturday.
The men were in control against the third-seeded Loggers for much of the game. However, a 14-5 UPS run tied the game at 58 with 6 minutes to play. Later, the Loggers would score seven consecutive points to take a 68-65 lead.
However, the Pirates proved resilient down the stretch.
“It’s about taking the other team’s punches and responding,” McConnell said. “Our guys have done a good job of taking the game one possession at a time when we get down or the game gets tight.”
McConnell scored a layup in traffic to pull within one at 68-67. Then two possessions later, McCargar curled off a screen to hit a contested jumper from the left wing off a McConnell assist to take back the lead.
“We were able to get a couple stops at the end and make a few buckets and it ended up working out for us,” McCargar said.
Then, UPS, opting to go for the long-range 3-pointer while only down one, missed from the left corner, allowing sophomore forward George Valle to come down with the rebound. The Loggers were then forced to foul McCargar, the conference’s best free throw shooter at 85 percent, who knocked down both foul shots.
UPS had one final chance, but tight Whitworth defense forced an off-balance shot that bricked off the backboard, sealing the eighth-consecutive NWC Tournament title for the Bucs.
McCargar had a game-high 25 points and a team-high seven rebounds, Valle added 10 points and four rebounds while McConnell scored 15, putting him over the 1,000 point mark for his career.
The Whitworth men punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament. The seniors have qualified for the NCAA tournament every year they’ve been at Whitworth.
“The first thing you’ve got to do is enjoy this,” Logie said. “This wasn’t an easy achievement and certainly our guys have earned the right to celebrate this tonight and get some rest tomorrow.”
In looking ahead to the tournament, Logie said that experience from years past could be a factor.
“We have veteran players with experience traveling into hostile environments and playing good competition and I think we’re playing our best basketball of the year,” Logie said. “We’ve taken our opponents best shots and we’ve been able to survive and advance. And that’s what this time of year is all about.”
The Pirates found out on Monday who they will play in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Check thewhitworthian.news for updates.
Contact James Silberman at firstname.lastname@example.org