SPOKANE, Wash. – With all five starters reaching double figures in points, 4th-ranked Whitworth held off visiting Linfield 86-75 on Friday night to clinch second place in the Northwest Conference men's basketball standings and the right to host a conference tournament semifinal next Thursday.
The Pirates (21-3 overall, 13-2 NWC) shot 60% from the field against the Wildcats (16-7, 10-5 NWC), who came into the game leading the league in scoring defense and defensive field goal percentage. The win was Whitworth's 21st in a row over Linfield.
"Our guys showed a good understanding of how we wanted to attack offensively today," said Whitworth head coach Matt Logie. "We created scoring opportunities and shared the ball well. Plus we got some stops which led to transition baskets."
The Bucs jumped out quickly, getting an early three-pointer from Garrett Hull and a basket from Ben Bishop for an 11-4 lead only three minutes into the game. When Ben College hit one of two free throws, Whitworth had taken a 19-11 lead five minutes later. Linfield responded with a 10-1 run, grabbing a 21-20 lead on a layup by Dempsey Roggenbuck. Riley Bruil's three-point play extended the Wildcats' advantage to 26-24 before Whitworth answered with a7-0 run that was sparked by Jared Christy's three-pointer. The Pirates took a 40-35 lead at halftime.
Hull's three-point basket seven minutes into the second half gave Whitworth a 53-43 lead and the Bucs would never lead by less than double-digits the rest of the way. Another Hull trey extended the margin to 61-44 and the Pirates took their largest lead (74-55) on a pair of Kyle Roach free throws with 7:41 to go.
Whitworth's offensive execution also affected another area of strength for Linfield. The Wildcats came into the game with a +4.4 rebounding margin, but Whitworth outrebounded Linfield 36-27.
"We did emphasize rebounding this week," Logie said. "But part of that margin was due to how effective we were offensively. There weren't a lot of defensive rebounds for them to get."
The Pirates made 27 of 45 from the field for a season-high team field goal percentage. Whitworth made 10-21 (47.6%) from three-point range as well.
Jared Christy was 7-7 from the field, including 3-3 from beyond the arc, to score 19 points. He also led the team with seven rebounds. College and Hull combined to make six three-pointers and scored 17 points apiece. Ben Bishop was also perfect from the floor (5-5) to finish with 15 points and he grabbed seven boards as well. Kyle Roach had 13 points and a team-high six assists.
Liam O'Reilly came off the bench to lead Linfield with 18 points. Roggenbuck finished with 14 points, while Bruil had 11 points and six rebounds. Linfield shot 42.9% from the field, 23.5% from three-point range.
Whitworth will close out the regular season on Saturday night by hosting Willamette at 6:00 pm. Joel Gabriele, the Pirates' only senior, will be recognized prior to tip off.
The NWC tournament will begin next Thursday (Feb. 22) with the semifinals on the campuses of the top two seeds. The championship game will be February 24th at the highest remaining seed.