SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth University rebounded from a frustrating first half to run away from Willamette 76-60 in the Northwest Conference men's basketball regular season finale for both teams on Saturday night at the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
The 4th-ranked Pirates (22-3 overall, 14-2 NWC) will now turn their attention to the NWC tournament semifinals on Thursday. Second-seeded Whitworth will host 3rd-seeded Puget Sound at 7:00 pm.
The visiting Bearcats (11-14, 6-10) did nearly everything right in the first half. They shot 62% from the floor, they outrebounded the Pirates 20-11 and they held Kyle Roach, Whitworth's leading scorer, without a single point. Yet, Willamette led only 36-34.
Garrett Hull sparked the Bucs' second half resurgence. His aggressive play led to a career-high seven steals and to transition baskets when Whitworth needed them most. Hull's steal and breakaway layup capped a quick 9-1 run for the Pirates in the opening minutes of the second half, giving Whitworth a 43-37 lead. Hull did it again with 11:20 to play, pushing the Pirates' advantage to 55-44. Kevin Crosno followed with a three-pointer and Whitworth never led by less than double digits the rest of the way.
The second half stats reflected the second half turnaround. Whitworth shot 53% from the floor after halftime and held the Bearcats to 42%. The rebounding battle was also even after the break, 15-15. And the Pirates forced 14 Willamette turnovers while committing only five.
In addition to his defensive prowess, Hull scored a game-high 20 points and led all players with five assists. Ben College joined Hull with 20 points, going 4-8 from three-point range. Crosno was 4-5 from beyond the arc and finished with 12 points off the bench.
Whitworth senior Joel Gabriele was recognized prior to tip off. He is the only senior on the Pirates' roster and he made his first career start. Gabriele scored the final point of the game with a free throw. He also had two steals.
Nathan Sherfey was 5-8 from beyond the arc and led Willamette with 15 points. Jordan Jenkins added 12 points and a game-high eight rebounds.
Tonight's win was Whitworth's 17th in a row over the Bearcats.