Whitworth men’s basketball edged Pacific Lutheran Thursday, and went on to claim the NWC Championship against Whitman on Saturday in the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
Thursday’s game proved a challenge to the Bucs as they found themselves behind the entire first half. Several times the Pirates got within one, but the Lutes maintained the lead. Going into the half the Lutes held a 32-28 lead.
Whitworth came out shooting in the second half and took an early lead, but the Lutes did not give up quickly. The lead changed hands several times over the course of the second half until just four minutes to play in the game.
The Bucs shot a perfect 12 for 12 from the free throw line in the final minutes to clinch the game.
Senior guard Micheal Taylor had his fourth 30 point game of the season in Thursday’s game. Senior forward David Riley and junior post Felix Friedt added 11 points apiece. Whitworth improved from 36 percent shooting in the first to 61 percent in the second half.
In the NWC Championship game Whitworth struggled to take a sure lead against the Whitman Missionaries until the second half, where they stretched a lead through the entire period to a final of 74-50.
While tied at 26 going into the break, the Bucs came alive in the second. Both Riley and Friedt scored all their points in the second half, scoring 11 and 16 points respectively. Taylor led for the Bucs again with 24 on the night.
The last time the score was tied was at 33-33, following which Whitworth scored nine unanswered.
Sophomore guard Wade Gebbers added 15 of his own points and had five assists.
Head coach Jim Hayford followed the NWC trophy presentation with remarks to the 1,928 fans in attendance. Hayford praised Whitworth fans for being the best in the conference and for being so supportive of the team throughout the season.
Whitworth’s win claimed the NWC title for the fifth season in a row and the sixth time overall. Whitworth (26-1) claims an automatic bid into the NCAA DIII tournament with the win. Whitworth will host the winner of the Chapman – Redlands game on March 5 at 7 pm.