SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth used a 19-2 run in the second half to turnaround a double-digit deficit and came away with a 75-69 win over the University of Redlands in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament on Saturday night in the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
The 6th-ranked Pirates (25-3), champions of the Northwest Conference, advance to play Emory University (20-6) in next Saturday's second round (location still to be announced). The Bulldogs, champions of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference, finish the season 22-6.
"What a great environment to play in, and the NCAA tournament is all about finding ways to advance and we did that tonight," said Whitworth head coach Matt Logie.
Wade Gebbers and Colton McCargar scored a game-high 21 points apiece to lead Whitworth's comeback victory. McCargar's jump shot with less than a minute to play gave the Pirates a 70-65 lead and the breathing room they would need down the stretch.
The first half flow went back and forth over the opening twelve minutes with eight ties and seven lead changes. Whitworth appeared to take control when Dustin McConnell's three-pointer gave the Pirates a 33-27 lead with 5:38 to play. But Redlands closed the half on a 14-2 run. Ricky Peetz and Eric Radford hit big three-pointers during the burst and Matt Calhoun's layup gave the Bulldogs a 41-35 lead at the break. Redlands hit 48% (13-27) of its shots in the first half, 50% (6-12) from three-point range. Whitworth was 43% (12-28) from the field, 4-11 (36%) from beyond the arc.
The Pirates quickly closed to within 41-40 in the opening minutes of the second half following a Gebbers three-point play. But Redlands responded. Steven Williams converted a three-point play and Peetz drilled back to back three-pointers to stake the Bulldogs to their largest lead of the game at 57-47 with 13:18 to go.
But that was when Whitworth went on its game-changing run. McCargar, Gebbers and McConnell all hit three-points to pull the Pirates within 57-56 and another McConnell three-pointer gave the Bucs a 61-59 lead. They would not trail again. After McCargar converted a three-point play that gave Whitworth a 66-59 lead with 6:14 to go, Redlands scored six straight points, pulling within 66-65 on Alex Rudd's bucket. The Bulldogs were within a single possession until McCargar hit his big pull-up jumper from 12 feet with 55 seconds left. The Pirates made 5-6 from the free throw line in the final 30 seconds to secure the win.
"Wade, Colton and Dustin made some huge shots and Zach Payne made a ton of winning plays," Logie said.
McConnell finished with 15 points and George Valle scored a dozen for Whitworth. McConnell and McCargar had six rebounds each and Gebbers dished four assists. The Pirates improved to 46% (13-28) in the second half, 50% (5-10) from beyond the arc.
Redlands dropped to 39% (11-28) from the field in the second half, 23% (3-13) from three-point range. Tristan Kirk led the Bulldogs with 19 points and nine rebounds, while Peetz and Rudd scored 14 points each. Eric Radford led all players with 10 rebounds and Kirk did the same with six assists.
"Hats off to Redlands, we have great respect for their program and they are a really tough out," Logie concluded. "I thought our guys really stepped up when their backs were against the wall and got defensive stops."
Whitworth's win over Redlands was the Pirates' second of the season.
Whitworth, making its seventh NCAA tournament appearance in a row and eighth overall, has now advanced past the first round for the seventh straight time.