by Caleb Mathena
Men’s basketball concluded their season after a heartbreaking 88-86 loss to 11th nationally ranked Whitman on Saturday. The Pirates’ first NCAA tournament game was their second overall loss to the Missionaries this year. The first came during the regular season, which caused the Whitworth powerhouse to drop from their No. 1 spot in the national rankings mid-season.
The Pirates were off to a solid start in the first half. A 3-pointer from junior Kenny Love in the first minutes established the Bucs’ lead, which they would hold for the majority of the game. Freshmen Kyle Roach’s layup put the score to 37-17, the Pirates largest lead of the night, with about ten minutes left to play in the half.
From there, the Missionaries started to regain their footing. After the tenth minute and a series of Pirate fouls, Whitworth lost their momentum and were outscored 26-15 before the buzzer sent them into the locker room with a slim 46-43 lead.
The massive home crowd welcomed out the Pirates as they stepped back on the court, hopeful that they could stage a resurgence. Valle scored two right out of the gate, leading to another four unanswered points from the Bucs. For a moment, it seemed as if Whitworth would pull away once again until Whitman’s sophomore guard, Tim Howell, ended the Pirates’ long-standing lead and single-handedly scored the next 14 of his team’s points. Howell would go on to score a combined 32 points, 22 of which occurred in the second half alone.
Whitworth would hold the lead five more times before the end of the game. Sears picked up a block in the 11th minute of the second half and a dunk a few seconds after, putting his team within one point of the Missionaries. Junior Kenny Love sunk back-to-back 3-pointers with six minutes left, giving the Pirates a 76-75 lead.
With 14 seconds left on the clock, Love made yet another three—an apparent game-saver that rescued the Bucs from their 83-86 deficit. Yet, in literally the last second, Whitman’s Chris McDonald threw up a last-ditch shot to win and send the Whitman stands and coaches into an uproar. The final score was 88-86.
2016 NWC player of the year, Valle amassed 26 points for the night. Love scored 20 of his own, grabbed 7 rebounds, and went 5-8 from the 3-point line.
Whitworth finishes one of their best seasons in school history, 26-2.