SPOKANE - Jumping back into Northwest Conference title contention, Whitman College peeled a 25-year-old monkey off its back with a come-from-behind 77-66 men's basketball victory over Whitworth Tuesday night in Spokane, Wash.
Whitman rallied from a nine-point deficit early in the second half to beat the Pirates on their home floor for the first time since January of 1986.
Winning its fourth straight game, Whitman improved to 12-4 on the season and 5-2 in the NWC, good enough for sole possession of second place in the conference standings.
Whitworth, ranked No. 9 in one NCAA Division III poll, slipped to 6-1 in conference and 13-3 overall.
David Michaels, who missed last weekend's games due to injury, made a triumphant return for the Missionaries with 20 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. The 6-foot-7 forward hit 2-of-3 shots from the 3-point stripe and made 12-of-15 free throws.
LuQuam Thompson and Ben Eisenhardt added 16 and 11 points, respectively, while converting 10-of-12 free throws between them.
As a team, Whitman was 27-of-34 from the line (79.4 percent), which far exceeded its season average. Two of its misses came in the final 30 seconds when the game was all but over.
Whitman drilled five 3-pointers and was 13-of-25 (52 percent) from the floor overall in the second half as it shot past the Pirates.
The Missionaries finished the night with eight 3-pointers - three more than Whitworth. Ignas Pavilonis, who hit three times from beyond the arc, added nine points and four rebounds off the Whitman bench.
Whitman outrebounded Whitworth 35-30 and held the Pirates to a 30.8 percent (8-of-26) shooting performance in the second half.
Whitman, which trailed for most of the first half, took its only lead midway through that stanza when Thompson and Michaels combined for a seven-point scoring spurt and 13-12 advantage.
Whitman's 34-28 halftime deficit turned into a nine-point hole when Idris Lasisi hit a Pirate 3 in the first minute of the second half.
The Missionaries came charging back in a hurry, outscoring their hosts 17-2 over the next four minutes. While Thompson, Drew Raher and Pavilonis took turns from the 3-point line, both Eisenhardt and Peter Clark finished three-point plays at the hoop.
That outburst produced a 45-39 Whitman cushion with 15 minutes left to play. The lead was seven after two Michaels free throws and Raher's steal and layin, and it was back to seven after Josh Duckworth hit a bucket and two more charity tosses.
The Pirates never regained the lead, although they pulled even at 56 and 58, both times when Wade Gebbers knocked down his free throws.
Michaels, who scored 15 of his points in the second half, erased that final deadlock when he buried a 3-pointer with just over five minutes left to play.
Whitworth misfired at its end, Michaels rebounded and was fouled as he launched another 3-point attempt. He made all three free throws, stretching the Missionary lead to six points.
After Whitworth missed its next shot, Michaels again collected the rebound and capped Whitman's next possession with a three-ball that made it 67-58 with four minutes left.
The Pirates kept firing away but drew no closer than six points the rest of the way.
Whitman got key contributions from Clark (seven points, four rebounds), Raher (six points, three rebounds) and Duckworth, who combined six points with four rebounds and three steals.
Gebbers, who was 12-of-13 from the free-throw line, paced Whitworth with 26 points and five steals. Lasisi posted a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds while Mack Larkin added 12 points and seven rebounds.
Felix Freidt, who battled foul trouble, had just nine points and two rebounds for the Pirates. The 6-foot-8 senior post entered the night averaging 17.1 points and an NWC-high 9.1 rebounds.
Whitman completes the first half of its NWC season on Saturday when it travels to Salem for a 6 p.m. game against Willamette.
Whitman 77, Whitworth 66
WHITMAN (77) - Michaels 3-6 12-15 20, Clark 2-4 2-3 7, Raher 2-4 1-2 6, Duckworth 2-5 2-2 6, Thompson 4-10 7-9 16, Mounier 0-2 0-0 0, Eisenhardt 4-9 3-3 11, Shaw 1-1 0-0 2, Dickson 0-0 0-0 0, Pavilonis 3-8 0-0 9, Wright 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-50 27-34 77.
WHITWORTH (66) - Lasisi 6-12 0-0 14, Larkin 5-11 1-2 12, Friedt 3-4 3-3 9, McConnell 1-5 0-0 2, Gebbers 6-12 12-13 26, McCargar 1-7 0-0 2, Douglas 0-2 0-0 0, Taylor 0-2 1-3 1, Loofburrow 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-56 17-21 66.
Halftime - Whitworth 34, Whitman 28. 3-point goals - Whitman 8-23 (Michaels 2-3, Clark 1-3, Raher 1-2, Thompson 1-3, Mounier 0-1, Eisenhardt 0-2, Pavilonis 3-8, Wright 0-1), Whitworth 5-27 (Lasisi 2-7, Larkin 1-4, Friedt 0-1, McConnell 0-3, Gebbers 2-7, McCargar 0-3, Douglas 0-1, Loofburrow 0-1). Total fouls - Whitworth 20, Whitman 19. Fouled out - Whitworth (Larkin, Friedt). Technical fouls - Whitworth (team). Turnovers - Whitman 13, Whitworth 11. Assists - Whitman 9 (Michaels 3), Whitworth 7 (Gebbers 3).