WALLA WALLA - Whitman trailed Pacific Lutheran 63-55 with 5:35 left to play here Friday in Northwest Conference men's basketball action, but roared back to outscore the Lutes 18-5 the rest of the way and pull out a 73-68 win.
"PLU is about as good a basketball team as you will find in the west," Whitman coach Eric Bridgeland said. "Anytime you get a win over PLU, it is a quality win. I was proud of our guys to have a ‘will to win' run at the end of the game."
Whitman hit treys on three consecutive possessions - Drew Raher's was sandwiched between two by Ignas Pavilonis - and the Missionaries opened a 27-19 lead with 11:10 left in the first.
The Missionaries held serve and, following a 3-point play from Ben Eisenhardt, Whitman led by eight at 30-22 with 8:12 left in the half.
The Lutes responded and took a 41-39 lead following a trey from Cameron Reister, who led the Lutes with 17 points on the night, with a minute left. PLU took the 41-39 lead into halftime.
David Michaels outscored PLU 7-2 (two 3s and a free throw) to open the second half. Following Michaels' second 3, Whitman led 46-43 with four minutes gone in the second half.
The Lutes ignited a 20-9 run that was capped by a 3-ball from Cameron Schilling as PLU pushed the lead to that 63-55 margin at the 5:35 mark.
"My teammates are unbelievably talented and focused," Michaels said. "Their energy and effort propels this team. We knew we had to keep getting stop after stop. We just told each other that we had to lock down every position."
Whitman turned up the intensity on its full-court press and Raher picked off a Lute pass. Michaels followed the steal by drawing a foul and converting the first of four consecutive free throws to cut the Lute lead to 63-59 with 4:58 to go.
"When we got down, we were more aggressive with it (the press)," Bridgeland said. "We got lucky a little bit. We pressured and maybe they got a little rattled. They don't normally do that."
"That (press) was a strategy we've practiced all week," Michaels said. "They burned us when we were at PLU (a 58-57 Whitman win). We had to adjust our press and mix it up, just to give us a chance."
The press forced another Lute turnover and Whitman went inside-out to take advantage. Michaels got the ball in the post and kicked it out to Pavilonis, who drained a trey and the Missionaries pulled within 63-62 with 3:20 left.
"When you have a shooter like Ignas Pavilonis, he can stretch a defense like no other," Michaels said. "He's a phenomenal shooter and made me look good by hitting a bunch of shots."
PLU's Andrew Earnest and Whitman's Raher exchanged 3s for a 67-66 PLU lead at the 2:27 mark.
After a Raher rebound of a PLU miss, Pavilonis missed a trey, but Josh Duckworth grabbed the rebound and made an over the head - with his back to the bucket - put back, drew a foul and converted for a 68-66 Whitman lead with 1:52 to play.
"That was an amazing shot," Michaels said of the Duckworth put back. "We make an emphasis to crash the offensive glass and he (Duckworth) did that. He came up with a huge play."
"Josh Duckworth has been hitting big shots ever since he came to Whitman," Bridgeland said. "He's one of those guys that you hope has the ball when there is a big play to be made. Duck makes those plays, and tonight was not different."
Michaels culminated his 30-point effort with a spinning fall away jumper and one, to produce an insurmountable 71-66 Whitman lead with :53 left.
"I don't know what happened," the 6-foot-7 Michaels said of his shot. "Thankfully it went in and we were able to pull out the victory."
The win improved Whitman to 8-3 in the NWC and, coupled with a Puget Sound loss (78-59) at Whitworth, moved Whitman into sole possession of second place with UPS visiting Saturday.
Whitman 73, Pacific Lutheran 68
PACIFIC LUTHERAN (68) - Conti 6-8 1-1 15, Tveter 0-1 0-0 0, Earnest 2-8 0-0 6, Hoyt 5-11 0-4 10, Schilling 5-11 1-3 13, Williams 0-4 0-2 0, Klein 1-1 0-0 3, Reister 7-9 0-2 17, Isaksen 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 28-56 2-12 68.
WHITMAN (73) - Duckworth 2-5 5-7 9, Michaels 8-15 9-13 30, Thompson 1-5 0-1 2, Clark 0-4, 0-0 0, Raher 3-4 1-2 10, Eisenhardt 2-6 3-3 7, Shaw 0-0 1-3 1, Dickson 0-1 0-0 0, Pavilonis 4-12 1-2 13, Wright 0-0 1-2 1, Gilkey 0-1 0-2 0. Totals 20-53 21-35 73.
Halftime - PLU 41-39. 3-point goals - PLU 10-20 (Conti 2-3, Earnest 2-5, Schilling 2-5, Williams 0-1, Klein 1-1 Reister 3-4, Isaksen 0-1),Whitm 12-29 (Michaels 5-7, Thompson 0-1, Clark 0-4, Raher 3-4, Dickson 0-1, Pavilonis 4-12). Total fouls - PLU 24, Whitm 14. Fouled out - PLU (Klein). Technical fouls - none. Rebounds - PLU 35 (Hoyt 8, Schilling 8), Whitm 43 (Michaels 9). Turnovers - PLU 11, Whitm 12. Assists - PLU 15 (Conti 7), Whitm 10 (Duckworth 3).