SPOKANE, Wash. – Bouncing back from its worst half of the season, Whitworth came from behind to defeat visiting Pacific Lutheran 71-56 in a Northwest Conference men's basketball game on Saturday night.
The 6th-ranked Pirates improved to 15-2 overall and 7-1 in the NWC halfway through the conference season.
The opening five minutes could not have gone worse for Whitworth. PLU (6-10, 3-5) held the Pirates scoreless and grabbed a 9-0 lead. Whitworth missed five shots and had five turnovers over that initial five minutes while Kelton Williams scored the first five points for the Lutes.
Whitworth fought back to take a 17-16 lead on a basket by Ben Bishop. The teams traded leads three times over the next five minutes until PLU closed the half on an 8-2 run for a 30-26 lead at the break. The Pirates shot a season-low 29% (9-31) in the first half and committed 12 turnovers.
Led by Kyle Roach, Whitworth turned things around in the second half, outscoring PLU 45-26. The Bucs began to take control five minutes into the period. Trailing 39-38, Whitworth went on a 12-2 run to go up 50-41 with 11:11 to play with Roach scoring eight of those points. After PLU cut the lead back to 50-46 on another Williams basket, the Bucs scored the next eight points (six by Roach) to take their first double-digit lead at 58-46. The Lutes got as close as 58-52 with 4:13 to play on a Williams three-pointer before Whitworth closed the game on a 13-4 run, sparked by a Roach three-point play.
"I think our guys stepped up in the second half and were all disappointed by how we started the game," said Whitworth head coach Matt Logie. "Much of our difficulty was self-inflicted, but once we took care of the basketball and got better on defense the game snowballed in our favor."
Roach scored 27 of his 30 points after halftime and Ben College added 14 points for the Pirates. Whitworth shot 59% (16-27) after halftime and only committed two turnovers. The Pirates finished with a 37-29 edge in rebounding.
Williams led PLU with 15 points and five assists while Jordan Thomas had 10 rebounds.
Whitworth will begin the second half of NWC play next weekend in Oregon at Pacific (Ore.) and Willamette.
"We're on schedule with where we want to be," said Logie. "One of our biggest goals every January is still to be getting better in February. We've seen moments where we've played lights out, but we still have plenty of room to grow and get better."