WALLA WALLA - Whitman's men's basketball team scored a victory against Menlo, which has spent a large part of its pre-league season playing Division I and II teams, at home Friday, 77-72.
The Missionaries overcame some spotty free-throw shooting with an all-out effort to take a narrow halftime lead and closed the contest with a second-half surge.
"Menlo is a senior-dominated team," said Whitman head coach Eric Bridgeland. "We're much younger and for our guys to come together and beat them is a major accomplishment."
The Oaks (2-6) opened up an early eight-point lead when Tyler Ranjus laid home an opportunity just over eight minutes into the contest to make the score 18-10, but the Missionaries battled back behind the strong outside shooting of Peter Clark and Ignas Pavilonis, who combined to drain seven treys on the night.
Whitman took the lead at the 6:15 mark on a layup by Josh Duckworth in what became a back-and-forth game from there on out.
"It was a matter of getting the momentum and trying to control the game," said Whitman forward Drew Raher. "We battled, and we pride ourselves in playing the way we played tonight."
The Missionaries (4-4) took a 40-38 lead into the break and pushed the lead to eight with just over four minutes gone in the second stanza, but Menlo got off the deck and rallied to grab a 52-50 edge with a 10-0 run capped by a Julian Harris runner at the 13:37 mark.
"Being able to come back in both halves is the kind of team we want to be," said guard Justin Artis. "We might get down, but we get back up. This is our identity. This is a good win for us."
Menlo opened up a six-point lead with less than 10 minutes to go on a 3-ball from Carlos Monroy, and it appeared that the Missionaries' poor free-throw shooting might hinder a comeback. But despite shooting only 15-of-32 from the stripe, forcing 23 turnovers saved the day for Whitman.
"To shoot like we did at the line and still win says a lot about what this team can do," Bridgeland said. "I'm proud that we could hang in there. Our defense really carried us through the last five minutes."
Whitman pulled into a 69-all tie on an Artis free throw with 2:46 on the clock, and the Missionaries continued to take control from there.
"Justin made some big plays for us," Bridgeland said of the starting guard, who led the team with three assists. "Down the stretch is the kind of basketball that we need to play once we get to league play."
Brandon Duckworth hit a critical bank shot with just under two minutes to go that gave Whitman a 73-72 lead it would never relinquish. Brandon Shaw stretched the lead to three with a layup at the 57-second mark.
"How we played in the last five minutes is something we can use to build upon for the rest of the season," Artis said. "We had to put in some extra effort to overcome the missed free throws, but we made it happen."
Whitman was led by Shaw's 16 points and also got 14 from Duckworth, while Artis led the team with six rebounds.
The win will give the Missionaries something positive to reflect on as they take two weeks off before playing Pennsylvania's Immaculata University on Dec. 27.
"Our guys were excited to play tonight, and you could see it," Bridgeland said. "We made some big plays and left it on the floor. We beat a quality team, and we have a little time to enjoy that."
Whitman 77, Menlo 72
Menlo (72) - Harris 6-14 8-9 22, Monroy 2-3 0-0 6, Davis 1-7 0-0 3, Tatum 5-9 0-0 10, McCullar 3-5 1-2 7, Grant 3-8 0-1 6, Dung 3-4 1-2 8, Young 0-1 0-0 0, Greene 0-1 0-0 0, Rajnus 4-4 2-2 10. Totals 27-56 12-16 72.
Whitman (77) - Shaw 7-10 2-9 16, Artis 5-11 1-5 12, Clark 4-9 0-0 12, Raher 1-4 2-4 4, Gilkey 0-7 4-6 4, Dickson 0-1 0-0 0, Duckworth 4-7 6-8 14, Pavilonis 3-6 0-0 9, Michaels 1-1 0-0 2. Guisness 0-1 0-0 0, Brent 2-3 0-0 0. Total 27-60 15-32 77.
Halftime - Whitman 40, Menlo 38. 3-point goals - Menlo 6-16 (Harris 2-6, Monroy 2-3, Davis 1-3, Grant 0-2, Dung 1-2 ), Whitman 8-22 (Artis 1-4, Clark 4-9, Raher 0-2, Dickson 0-1, Pavilonis 3-5, Brent 0-1). Total fouls - Menlo 23, Whitman 16. Fouled out - Menlo 1 (Grant), Whitman 1 (Gilkey 1). Technical fouls - None. Rebounds - Menlo 40 (Tatum 7), Whitman 35 (Artis 6). Turnovers - Menlo 23, Whitman 13. Assists- Menlo 13 (Grant 4 ), Whitman 11 (Clark 3).