WALLA WALLA — Securing a home conference tournament game and a possible piece of the Northwest Conference title are on the line as the Whitman men face Willamette and Linfield this Friday and Saturday on the road in the last two games of the regular season.
The Whits (10-4) currently hold down the second spot in the NWC with George Fox (9-5) clipping at their heels.
Whitworth (122) still stands atop the standings, but has suffered two losses in a row — to Whitman and George Fox.
Friday’s opponent, Willamette, sits just one game out of last place at 4-10 in conference and 7-16 overall. The Bearcats have lost six straight, their last win coming against Linfield, 68-67.
Earlier this season in Walla Walla, Willamette gave the Missionaries a run for their money before falling 94-87, with shooting guard Terrell Malley peppering the Whits for 23 points.
Ben Eisenhardt led Whitman with 27.
Coincidentally, Malley ranks third in conference scoring at 16.8 points per game, and Eisenhardt second at 17.0.
Eisenhardt ranks fifth in field goal percentage at 54.6 percent.
Willamette touts a stout big man of its own in post Sean Dart, who averages 11.6 ppg., 58.9 percent from the field (third in the NWC), and 8.5 rebounds (first). Dart had 18 points and four rebounds in the first meeting.
Linfield (4-19) also has an imposing front-courter in center Andrew Batiuk, the conference’s leading scorer at 18.6 per game, and the second-leading rebounder at 8.3.
In their first meeting, a 102-53 Whitman rout, the Missionaries limited Batiuk to five points and two rebounds before he left the game midway through the second half, after taking a hard fall. The 49-point margin of victory was the Whits’ biggest of the season.
Entering the weekend, Whitman ranks 18th nationally in scoring margin (12.4) and third in scoring offense (91.4). Those totals are both tops in the NWC. The Missionaries also lead the conference in assists (13.4 assists a game).
On the defensive side, the Whits rank seventh nationally and first in the NWC in steals, swiping the ball away on average 11.9 times per game.
Whitman (16-7) has won seven of its last eight games, including upending No. 3 Whitworth in overtime and coming from 19 down in the second half to defeat Lewis and Clark, 74-71.
Tip-off for Friday’s game at Willamette is 8 p.m., and for Saturday’s game at Linfield 6 p.m.