Aston Francis scored 21 points and dished nine assists to lead visiting Wheaton College to a 92-84 win over 7th-ranked Whitworth University on Tuesday night in the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
The Thunder improved to 7-3 and ended the Pirates’ 30-game regular season winning streak against non-conference opponents. Whitworth fell to 8-1 after playing only its second game in the last 16 days due to final exams.
Wheaton outrebounded the Bucs 43-37 and made 21 of 24 free throw attempts to hold off several Whitworth comeback attempts.
“Wheaton did a good job of getting extra possessions with offensive rebounds,” said Whitworth head coach Matt Logie. “Francis created shots for his teammates and we didn’t make enough plays to turn the tide.”
Momentum shifted early in Wheaton’s favor in the first half. After the Pirates jumped to a quick 11-3 lead on Kyle Roach’s layup, the Thunder fought back to go up 16-15. Soon after Whitworth point guard Jordan Lester left the game with his second foul and the Thunder took advantage of his absence to build a 36-23 lead on a three-pointer by Zack Kvam with 5:40 to play. The Pirates were able to trim the margin to 41-36 at halftime after another Roach basket.
Whitworth opened the second half with a 9-2 run to briefly take a 45-43 lead. Roach scored seven of those points. Wheaton answered with an 8-0 spurt to go back in front and never trailed again. The Thunder stretched the margin to 60-50 on back-to-back baskets by Kobe Eickelberger. Still down 71-62 with 7:43 to play, Whitworth rallied to within 78-77 on Jared Christy’s three-point play with just over three minutes to go. But the Thunder held the Pirates scoreless over the next two minutes and went back up 84-77 on a Francis jumper with 1:11 to go, essentially clinching the game.
“Every team is coming off of finals right now, so I don’t think that had too much impact,” Logie said. “We didn’t make enough free throws or convert around the rim, which took the wind out of our sails. We tip our cap to Wheaton, they played better than we did tonight.”
Lester led Whitworth with a game-high 24 points, 18 after halftime. He added four assists. Roach scored 21 points, while Christy finished with 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Garrett Hull came off of the bench for 11 points. The Pirates struggled at the free throw line, making only 17 of 30 attempts (56.7%).
Francis, who came into the game averaging nearly 30 points per contest, made only 6 of 19 shots from the field. But he was 6-6 at the free throw line and added the nine assists and six rebounds. Spencer Peterson came off of the bench for 19 points and was also 6-6 at the charity stripe. Jay Spencer was a force on defense with 11 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
Whitworth will break for Christmas and return to action on December 29 and 30 with the Whitworth Men’s Classic. The Pirates will play Wis.-Stout and Calvin.
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