SPOKANE, Wash. – Holding Pacific Lutheran scoreless for a nine minute stretch of the second half, 20th-ranked Whitworth turned a 41-36 deficit into a 50-41 lead on the way to a 63-56 win over the visiting Lutes in the Northwest Conference men's basketball opener for both schools on Friday night in the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
The Pirates improved to 4-1 overall after overcoming a 22-point, 9-rebound performance by PLU's Cameron Schilling.
"I thought our defense in the second half was what won us the game tonight," said Whitworth head coach Matt Logie. "We got some terrific shots in the first half around the basket but they just didn't go down, and fortunately we were able to rely on our defense to pull it out."
The Lutes (2-6, 0-1) took a 29-24 lead into halftime. There were seven lead changes and the score was tied five times over the first 20 minutes. But PLU took control at the end of the half with a 9-0 run over the final four minutes. After Colton McCargar gave Whitworth a 24-20 lead with a three-pointer, Cole Parker scored two straight baskets to tie the game and Andrew Alness drained a three-pointer from the corner to give PLU the lead. Schilling hit the final basket of the half for the Lutes' five point edge. PLU shot 43% (13-30) in the first half, while holding Whitworth to 33% (10-30).
Pacific Lutheran took its largest lead of the game right out of the locker rooms when Bryce Miller canned a pair of free throws to give the Lutes a 31-24 advantage. Mack Larkin's three-point play got the Pirates within 39-36, but Alness answered with a mid-range jumper on the next PLU possession to put the Lutes back up 41-36 with 14:19 to play. They would be PLU's final points for the next nine minutes.
Neither team scored for the next three minutes until Zach Payne broke the ice for the Pirates with a lay in. George Valle's steal and breakaway basket tied the game 41-41 and his three-pointer gave Whitworth a 48-41 lead. Valle finished off Whitworth's 14-0 run with a pull-up basket with 5:29 to play to give Whitworth a 50-41 lead. Cameron Reister finally broke the Lutes' scoreless slump with a three-pointer with 4:55 to go in the game.
Whitworth led 57-48 with just over a minute to play. The Pirates held off the Lutes, who got three-pointers from Schilling and Drew Earnest down the stretch, by making 6-6 from the free throw line in the final 45 seconds.
The shooting fortunes turned in Whitworth's favor after halftime. The Bucs made 45% (13-29) of their shots in the second half while holding PLU to 27% (8-30).
Valle led the Pirates with 16 points, six rebounds, four steals and three assists, while Larkin finished with 12 points. Schilling was the only Lute to reach double figures in scoring. Alness had eight points off of the bench.
"George (Valle) continues to step up for us in a variety of ways, his 10 second half points and three steals really came at critical moments and gave us the momentum we needed to build a cushion down the stretch," Logie said. "I also thought that Mack Larkin made some clutch plays and steadied us on both ends of the floor."
Whitworth's win is its 15th in a row over PLU. The Pirates will look for their fifth straight win this season when they host Puget Sound in another Northwest Conference contest on Saturday at 8:00 pm. PLU heads to Walla Walla to take on Whitman on Saturday.