Whitman men tangle with Bruins in semis

Whitman’s Josh Duckworth (left) and Jackson Clough battle Willamette’s Terrell Malley for the ball during a game at Sherwood Center Jan. 19. Duckworth and Clough follow Missionary coach Eric Bridgeland (second from right) into a NWC semifinal playoff game against George Fox Thursday night for a spot in the NWC title game Saturday.

Whitman’s Josh Duckworth (left) and Jackson Clough battle Willamette’s Terrell Malley for the ball during a game at Sherwood Center Jan. 19. Duckworth and Clough follow Missionary coach Eric Bridgeland (second from right) into a NWC semifinal playoff game against George Fox Thursday night for a spot in the NWC title game Saturday. Photo by Jeff Horner.

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WALLA WALLA — Winners of nine of their last 10 games and owners of the No. 2 seed in the Northwest Conference tourney, the Whitman men’s basketball team hosts No. 3-seed George Fox at 8 p.m. Thursday in the conference semifinals at George Ball Court.

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Whitman’s Josh Duckworth (left) and Jackson Clough battle Willamette’s Terrell Malley for the ball during a game at Sherwood Center Jan. 19. Duckworth and Clough follow Missionary coach Eric Bridgeland (second from right) into a NWC semifinal playoff game against George Fox Thursday night for a spot in the NWC title game Saturday.

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The Missionaries (18-7) posted the most conference wins (12-4) in program history this season.

The mark was the second-best conference winning percentage (.750) of all time — the 1980-81 co-championship squad had a .769, going 10-3.

The Bruins enter Thursday night’s contest with a 10-6 mark in conference and 15-10 overall, finishing in a tie for third with Lewis & Clark and earning the No. 3 seed via the tiebreaker.

Each team won at home in the season series, George Fox prevailing 76-73 in Newberg and the Whits getting the “W” in Walla Walla, 93-77, in their final regular-season home game.

Josh Duckworth ripped the nets for 30 points in the second meeting, on 11-of-13 shooting from the field and sinking 5-of-6 from the line.

The Bruins’ Sean Atkins tallied 24 points. Atkins is the conference’s third leading scorer at 16.4 points per game.

Whitman’s Ben Eisenhardt is right behind him at 16.2. Eisenhardt ranks fourth in field-goal percentage at 54.3 percent, while teammate Ryan Gilkey is first at 61.8 percent.

The Missionaries continue to rank first in conference and third nationally in scoring, averaging 90.3 points per game (the closest team in conference is Whitworth at 79.0).

Whitman also ranks first in the NWC and 18th nationally in scoring margin at 12.4, and tops in conference offensive rebounds with 15 boards per game.

The Bruins come in as the No. 1 team in assists (13.6 per game); Whitman is No. 3 (13.1 apg).

On the defensive side, George Fox tops the league in blocks per game (3.5) and the Missionaries in steals (13.0).

This is the third straight season that the Whits have made the postseason, advancing to the tournament championship game two seasons ago.

The winner of Thursday’s matchup plays in the conference championship on Saturday. No. 1 seed Whitworth is hosting No. 4 Lewis & Clark, also on Thursday.

The championship will be played at the home of the highest remaining seed.

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