SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth University made sure this game against Linfield College would not go down to the wire. The 19th-ranked Pirates jumped out to an early 20-point lead and cruised to an 88-69 win over the visiting Wildcats in the semifinals of the Northwest Conference men's basketball tournament on Thursday night.
Kyle Roach scored 27 points for Whitworth (21-5), which advances to play in the NWC Tournament Championship game on Saturday night. Linfield ends its season at 17-9.
The third meeting between the teams was a far cry from the first two, won in the final seconds by the Pirates. Whitworth jumped out to an 11-0 lead, including three three-pointers by Roach, and made it 24-4 on Kevin Crosno's trey just under eight minutes into the game.
"Our guys really locked in defensively in the first half," said head coach Matt Logie. "We communicated well, which allowed us to get some transition baskets early."
The Pirates eventually took a 52-27 lead into halftime. The Bucs shot 57% (20-35) in the first half, including 53% (8-15) from three-point range. Meanwhile Whitworth held Linfield's normally-efficient offense to 30% (8-27) from the floor. The Wildcats were forced to play without second team All-NWC guard Liam O'Reilly, who sprained an ankle in practice earlier in the week.
Roach had 18 of his game-high point total in the first half.
"Kyle has been our heart and soul for two years now," Logie said. "When he plays with that kind of passion and intensity it bleeds over to everybody else on the floor."
The second half played out mostly as a formality. Whitworth took its largest lead of the game (55-27) when Ben College opened the period with a three-pointer. Linfield never gave up, however, and eventually cut the margin to 81-65 on Autencio Tanner's three-pointer with 4:52 to play, drawing some uncomfortable murmurs from the Whitworth crowed. Sam Lees answered with a jumper and College drained another three to quiet the comeback.
Roach posted his second double-double of the season after grabbing 10 rebounds. College added 16 points, while Lees and Crosno finished with 13 and 10, respectively, off the bench. The Pirates dished 20 assists, including six by Jordan Lester, on 34 made baskets and came up with nine steals on defense.
Roach and College received first team All-NWC recognition earlier in the week.
Dempsey Roggenbuck led Linfield with 15 points, Grant Gibb added 13 and Riley Bruil scored 10. The Wildcats improved their shooting in the second half and finished the game 42.6% (26-61) from the floor.
Whitworth has advanced to its 16th consecutive Northwest Conference Tournament final.