Whitworth advances to the Div. III Sweet 16

RICHARDSON, Texas – Trailing by seven points at halftime, the Whitworth Pirates outscored host Texas-Dallas 43-29 in the second half to pull off a 73-66 win in the second round of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament on Saturday night at the UTD Activity Center.

The Bucs (23-6) earned the first true NCAA tournament road win in program history to advance to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time, first since 2013.  Whitworth will take on top-ranked Swarthmore next weekend for the right to go to the final eight in Fort Wayne, Indiana on March 20-21.  The time, location and date will be determined late Sunday.

“It’s just a lot of joy,” said senior guard Ben College, who led his team with 24 points.  “We have a great locker room with an amazing group of guys who are so tight.  This just feels great.”

Liam Fitzgerald hit a pair of three-pointers to give the Pirates an early 6-4 lead.  UTD followed with a 7-0 run, going ahead 11-6 on a three by Michael Forster.  The Comets (22-7) would not trail again in the first half.  Forster hit a pair of free throws to give UTD a 30-21 lead with seven minutes to go and the Comets led 37-30 at halftime.

The Comets hit 56% of their shots in the first half and held the Bucs to only 40% (12-30).

“I thought we played well in the first half,” said head coach Damion Jablonski.  “We had shots we normally make not go down, so I thought we were in a good place, actually.”

College opened the second half with a three-point play, sparking the comeback.  Fitzgerald drove for a basket to tie the game 46-46 and Hernandez followed with a three-pointer to cap an 8-0 run and give the Pirates their first lead since it was 6-4.  Leading 51-48 with 13:51 to play, Whitworth’s offense hit a dry spot, allowing UTD to retake a 55-51 lead with 8:10 to go.  That’s when the Bucs awoke with a 9-2 run, capped by College’s three-pointer for a 60-57 lead with 6:30 to go.

One night after struggling at the free throw line down the stretch, Whitworth went 8-8 from the stripe over the final two and a half minutes of the game.  College went 4-4 in the final twenty seconds to seal the win.

Whitworth improved its shooting to 48.3% (14-29) after halftime while holding UTD to 35.5% (11-31) after the break.  After not getting a chance at the free throw line in the first half, the Pirates went 9-9 in the second.

“We stuck with the zone in the second half and took some charges down the stretch that became the defensive stops we needed,” Jablonski said.

College finished 7-14 from the floor and 5-10 from three-point range.  He increased his single-season school record for made three-pointers to 98.

Liam Fitzgerald added 17 points, six rebounds and five assists.  The sophomore post led the Bucs over the weekend with ten assists.  Isaiah Hernandez finished with 13 points and a team-high eight boards.  Garrett Hull had 11 points, six rebounds and five assists.  He hit a pair of crucial free throws with the Pirates ahead 67-64 and only 34 seconds remained.

Forster led the Comets with 23 points and eight assists, while Forster finished with 19.  Hans Burwitz totaled 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Whitworth earned its first win in three tries against UTD, all in Texas.