TACOMA, Wash. – The fourth-ranked Whitworth men's basketball team may be perfecting the art of winning ugly. The Pirates survived a brutal first half stretch and won 62-53 at the University of Puget Sound in a Northwest Conference men's basketball game on Friday night.
But as ugly as the offense might have been for a couple stretches on Friday, the defense saved the day as Whitworth improved to 17-1 overall and 9-0 in the NWC, while the Loggers dropped to 6-12, 1-8.
"I thought tonight's game was a testament to the way this team is built," said Whitworth head coach Matt Logie. "Our defense is our bread and butter and ultimately that, and taking care of the basketball, wins games on the road."
The Pirates actually came out of the gate on fire, making seven of their first eight shots from the floor to race out to a 16-3 lead five minutes into the game. George Valle scored the first five points for Whitworth on the way to a team-high 15.
But then the Bucs could hardly make a shot over the final 15 minutes of the half. After starting 7 of 8, Whitworth went 3 for 19 over the rest of the half. And Puget Sound started heating up. Rex Nelson's layup gave the Loggers their first lead of the game at 20-19. Derek Jobe's three-pointer extended the UPS advantage to 27-21 with two minutes to play, giving the Loggers their largest lead. But Valle was able to work a rebound into a pair of free throws with 1.8 seconds to go in the half that cut the Pirates' deficit to 29-26 at halftime.
Trailing 35-31 early in the second half, Whitworth used a 10-0 run to take back a lead it would never relinquish. Mack Larkin and Wade Gebbers each hit three-pointers in the run.
But the Pirates hit another offensive wall and did not score again for five minutes of play. But UPS could only pull within 41-39 thanks to some tough Whitworth defense. Larkin finally broke the drought with a basket off of the glass with 9:22 to go. A pair of free throws by Nelson tied the game at 43-43 with 7:16 to play, but the Loggers never got over the hump.
Whitworth would outscore UPS 19-10 the rest of the way. Dustin McConnell had a key steal and layup and Larkin followed with a three-pointer that gave the Bucs a 55-47 lead with 3:30 to go. Zach Payne's basket with 1:31 to play all but iced the game, giving Whitworth a 57-48 lead.
Behind Valle's 15 points, McConnell added 13 and Taylor Farnsworth scored 11. Larkin finished with eight points and seven rebounds. Whitworth made only 39% (22-56) from the field, 29% (7-24) from three-point range.
Nelson scored a game-high 23 points off of the bench for the Loggers. No other UPS player was in double figures. Puget Sound finished the game 33% (18-55) from the field, 25% (4-16) from three-point range.
The Loggers outrebounded the Pirates 44-33, but Whitworth forced 16 UPS turnovers while committing only eight.
"We were able to score off of turnovers on a night our shots weren't falling and George provided a nice interior and slashing presence attacking the basket," Logie said.
The Pirates will finish their trip to Tacoma with a game at Pacific Lutheran on Saturday at 6:00 pm.