SPOKANE, Wash. – Isaiah Hernandez drove for the game-winning basket with 13 seconds to play, capping Whitworth's dramatic 74-73 victory over visiting Linfield on Friday night in the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
The 15th-ranked Pirates (18-4 overall, 10-3 NWC) trailed 72-63 with 3:44 to play before outscoring the Wildcats (15-7, 8-5) 11-1 down the stretch to pull out the improbable victory in a game that could determine final seeding for the upcoming Northwest Conference tournament.
"This team seems to play its best when their backs are against the wall," said Whitworth head coach Matt Logie. "They are ready to fight for each other and for the entire season. That's what playoff basketball is all about and we are really getting that playoff kind of experience now."
Linfield nearly ended a long losing streak to Whitworth that has now reached 23 games and the Wildcats almost pulled out their first win in Spokane since 2001. The Pirates led for a total of 23 seconds in the game.
Jared Christy posted his fifth double-double of the season with 21 points and 10 rebounds to spark the Whitworth comeback.
Linfield led from the opening minutes, turning a 4-3 deficit into an 11-6 lead on Dempsey Roggenbuck's three-pointer. The visitors stretched the advantage to 28-16, their largest lead of the night, after Liam O'Reilly's basket. Trailing 35-23 late in the opening period, Whitworth was able to cut the lead to 35-29 at halftime when Christy drained a three-pointer just before the buzzer.
The Pirates were able to slice into Linfield's lead on several occasions in the second half, only to have the Wildcats answer. Christy's basket pulled Whitworth within 64-62 with 5:31 to play, but Linfield scored the next seven points and took a 72-63 lead on O'Reilly's basket with 3:44 to go.
The Wildcats' only point the rest of the way came when Roggenbuck made one of two free throws with 2:19 left to make the score 73-65. Ben College followed with a three pointer and the Whitworth defense forced turnovers on the next three Linfield possessions. Christy got a steal and a basket to get the Bucs within 73-72 with 56 seconds left and then he got another steal to set up Hernandez with the winning shot. Hernandez weaved through three defenders for a reverse layup with 13.3 seconds to play.
"Isaiah has stepped into big moments and produced all season," Logie said. "He's earned the opportunity to finish games for us and he's a great player in the open floor."
Linfield called a timeout with eight seconds left, but the best the Wildcats could do was a desperation baseline jumper by Roggenbuck that hit the side of the backboard as time expired.
"The last four minutes of the game were some of our best defensive minutes of the season," Logie concluded. "We were able to contain their penetration and stand them up."
College and Jordan Lester scored 15 apiece for the Pirates, while Hernandez had 13 points off the bench. Whitworth shot 53% from the field in the second half and outrebounded Linfield 37-27 in the game.
Roggenbuck scored 23 points for the Wildcats, while Autencio Tanner added 10. Linfield made 52% (13-25) of its three-pointers to give itself a good chance at the upset.
Whitworth will host George Fox on Saturday with a chance to clinch the #2 seed in the upcoming NWC tournament.