Whitworth advances to NWC title game with blowout win

Whitworth comes up short, bows out of NCAA Tournament

Spokane, Wash. – Whitworth University rolled to its 13th consecutive win in a Northwest Conference men’s basketball semifinal on Thursday night, defeating visiting Pacific Lutheran 87-57 to advance to Saturday’s championship game.

The Pirates (21-5) will host Whitman (19-7) at 7:00 pm in the Fieldhouse to determine the NWC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament. The third-seeded Blues won 85-70 at #2 Linfield in the NWC’s other semifinal on Thursday night.

PLU finishes its season 14-12.

Whitworth outshot the Lutes 53% (31-58) to 37% (21-57), including a 48% – 20% edge from beyond the arc.  The Pirates also outrebounded the Lutes 43-28.

“Our guys did a great job playing under control offensively and with great intensity on defense,” said head coach Damion Jablonski.

Whitworth never trailed against PLU, jumping out to a 13-4 lead on Garrett Hull’s three-pointer just over four minutes into the game.  The Pirates stretched their lead 25-8 on a Sam Lees basket halfway through the period.  The Lutes pulled to within 29-19 on a bucket by Jordan Thomas and had two possessions with a chance to get within single digits.  But after the second stop Reed Brown hit a three-pointer to spark a 7-0 run.  JT McDermott’s basket gave the Bucs a 44-22 lead and Whitworth led 44-24 at halftime.

Liam Fitzgerald had 10 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots in the first half.

“Liam played with so much energy and affected the game on both ends of the floor,” Jablonski said.

The Lutes didn’t go away and fought back to within 53-41 on another Thomas layup five minutes into the second half.  After Whitworth stretched the margin back to 59-41 on a Ben College three-pointer, PLU made one more run to within 64-50 after Jacob Bingham’s trey with 9:34 to play.  But that’s as close as the Lutes would get.  Another Brown three-pointer extended the Bucs’ lead to 76-52 and Whitworth eventually went up by 30 points in the final two minutes of the game.

College led all players with 21 points, hitting 4-5 from beyond the arc.  Fitzgerald finished with 16 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots.  Lees added 16 points, making 7 of 10 shots.  Brown had 12 points off the bench.

Leighton Kingma led PLU with 17 points, while Thomas and Conor Geiger each had a dozen.  Thomas led the Lutes with nine rebounds.The Pirates defeated the Lutes for the 32nd consecutive time.

Whitworth and Whitman split a pair of games this season, each winning on the other’s home floor.  The Pirates and Blues have met in the NWC tournament final five times, including each of the last three years in Walla Walla.  Whitworth holds a 3-2 edge over Whitman in NWC tournament title games.