SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth University had to grind out an 80-72 win over visiting Pacific Lutheran on Saturday night in a hard-fought Northwest Conference men's basketball contest.
The 8th-ranked Pirates overcame a pair of five-point, first half deficits to improve to 13-2 overall and 4-2 in the NWC. The Lutes dropped to 7-8, 2-4.
"This weekend epitomized what we were trying to focus on in practice this week, which is learning how to win tough games," said Whitworth head coach Matt Logie. "This weekend we started getting key plays in tough situations, played with intensity and strung stops together."
Whitworth and PLU traded leads throughout a topsy-turvy first half. The Lutes jumped out ahead 5-0 before the Pirates went up 23-19 on Derek Isaak's three-pointer. But PLU retook a 31-26 lead on Brandon Lester's three-pointer with just under seven minutes to go. Whitworth trimmed the margin to 34-33 at halftime. Jared Christy led the Lutes with 11 first half points while Isaak scored nine and Benny Nick came off of the bench for eight points in the first period to lead the Bucs.
Much like Friday night's win over Puget Sound, Whitworth took control of the game in the second half. The Pirates went up 43-37 when Kenny Love converted a three-point play and Whitworth would not trail again. The Bucs eventually stretched their lead to 69-53 on another Isaak three-pointer with seven minutes to play in the game.
But PLU fought back, pulling to within 76-72 when Kyle Sawtell drove for a layup with 50 seconds to play. CJ Johnson made the winning play for the Pirates when he grabbed a tough offensive rebound of his own missed shot and was fouled with 15 seconds to go. He made both shots to give Whitworth breathing room and Christian Jurlina secured the win with two more free throws with five seconds left.
Jurlina led the Pirates with 18 points while Isaak finished with 14. Love totaled 11 points and five assists. Nick contributed nine points and led the team with seven rebounds as Whitworth finished with a 38-35 advantage on the boards. The Pirates finished the game 23-48 (47.9%) from the floor, 7-20 (35%) from three-point range. Where Whitworth did its most damage was at the free throw line where the Bucs converted 27 of 32 attempts (84.4%).
Christy, the reigning NWC Men's Basketball Player of the Week, continued his torrid play with 26 points. Dylan Foreman added 17 points and Lester finished with 10 points and seven boards. PLU made 26-69 (37.7%) from the field, 8-24 (33.3%) from beyond the arc.
After four consecutive games at home to begin 2017, Whitworth will hit the road to take on Lewis & Clark (Friday) and George Fox (Saturday) next weekend. Whitworth, L&C and George Fox are all tied for second place in the conference standings at 4-2, two games behind Whitman (6-0).