WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Whitman College rallied from a ten-point halftime deficit to defeat visiting Whitworth University 107-102 in the Northwest Conference tournament final on Saturday night at the Sherwood Center.
The 2nd-ranked Blues (26-1) outscored the Pirates 62-47 in the second half to earn the NWC's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament. Whitworth (21-6) must hope for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament to see its season continue.
In what might have been his final game as a Pirate, All-American Kyle Roach poured in 38 points to raise his career scoring total to 1,654 (fifth all-time in school history).
The first half went just as Whitworth might have hoped. After weathering an early Whitman storm and missing their first six shots from three-point range, the Pirates shot 51% (22-43) from the field to grab a 55-45 lead at the break. Leading 35-32 with just over five minutes left, Whitworth outscored Whitman 20-13 down the stretch. Roach scored 28 of his points in the first half, making 10-16 shots, including 5-9 from beyond the arc. Perhaps most import, the Pirates only committed six turnovers against the Blues' pressure defense.
"The first 20 minutes played out exactly according to plan," said Whitworth head coach Matt Logie. "We executed well and saw the best version of our team during that half."
The Blues scored the first 11 points of the second half, however, erasing the entire lead in only two and a half minutes. Whitworth committed three turnovers and two fouls during Whitman's run. Roach and Jordan Lester responded with consecutive baskets for the Bucs. The Pirates led 63-60 when the Blues used a 9-0 run to take a lead they would never relinquish.
Austin Vickers led the Blues' second half surge with 17 of his team-high 32 points.
Whitman looked like it might turn the game into a rout when NWC Player of the Year Austin Butler scored to increase the Blues' lead to 94-78 with 5:29 to go. Whitworth fought back to make it interesting in the final seconds. A Ben College three-pointer cut the margin to 97-89 with 2:52 to go and he made it 101-97 with a long trey with 48 seconds left.
The Pirates had the ball, trailing 105-100, with 20 seconds to play, but Roach fell and lost possession of the ball while driving toward the basket, turning the ball over a final time.
"The first four minutes of the second half allowed Whitman to get right back into the game and grab the momentum," Logie said. "You've got to tip your hat to Vickers. We did what we thought we needed to do against some of their guys, but Vickers put his team on his back and carried them."
Roach went 12-22 from the floor, 5-11 from three-point range and 9-10 from the free throw line. He added seven rebounds and three assists. Lester finished with a career-high 28 points and five assists. Hernandez scored 14 and College finished with 10. Jared Christy grabbed 10 rebounds and dished six assists. Whitworth shot 49.3% in the game, including 41.7% (10-24) from three-point range. The Pirates also made 91% (20-22) of their free throws.
Butler finished with 22 points, while Joey Hewitt had 13 and Cedric Jacobs-Jones tallied 12. After shooting 48.6% in the first half, Whitman made 56.8% of its shots after halftime. The Blues outrebounded the Pirates 19-10 after halftime and forced Whitworth into 11 second-half turnovers.