Pirates hold off Whits to clinch NWC title


SPOKANE — With all due respect to Ernie Banks, let’s play three, shall we?

The Whitman-Whitworth men’s basketball rivalry has been too tense, too dramatic and too darn close to deserve anything short of a trilogy this season.

If there is a third chapter, it will unfold in Spokane. Whitworth saw to that by holding off the Missionaries 79-76 and clinching the Northwest Conference championship here Tuesday.

The 13th-ranked Pirates (20-4, 14-1 in NWC) won their 10th consecutive game and woke echoes of the first meeting between these foes, an 84-80 Whitworth win in Walla Walla on Jan. 21 that was up for grabs until the final seconds — just as Tuesday’s rematch was.

Whitworth clinched home-court advantage throughout the conference tournament and would host Whitman (16-8, 11-4) for the tourney title if both teams win their semifinal matchups.

The Missionaries will also open the tournament at home, as Lewis and Clark’s 81-78 loss at George Fox Tuesday clinched the No. 2 seed for Whitman. Whitman will host the No. 3 seed at Sherwood Center Feb. 27 while Whitworth entertains the No. 4 seed.

After 80 minutes this season, seven measly points separate Whitman and Whitworth. The Missionaries came up three points short on Tuesday and missed numerous opportunities by shooting 16-for-28 from the free-throw line.

“I think we played well, but we shot 57 percent from the foul line,” Whitman head coach Eric Bridgeland said. “If you count misses on the front end of one-and-ones, we were 16-for-33. We need to make those count. We have to knock those down to be a champion in their gym.”

Three of those misses came inside the final 14.3 seconds, as Whitworth was leaving the comeback door slightly ajar with its own struggles at the line. Whitman’s free-throw woes helped spoil a spirited overall effort that saw the Missionaries erase a nine-point second-half deficit.

It also overshadowed a beastly performance by senior center Ben Eisenhardt, who scored 30 points on 13-for-18 shooting and added six rebounds and just one turnover in 28 minutes.

“We need to take advantage of Ben having a great night,” Bridgeland said. “He was the only one who shot the ball well.

“We got a lot of good looks, they just didn’t go. Down the stretch, we’ve got to make shots.”

The Missionaries trailed 51-42 with 16:12 left in the game before storming back to make it a brawl.

A 3-pointer by Philip Chircu and a three-point play by LuQuam Thompson shaved the Pirates advantage to 57-55. Eisenhardt then scored consecutive baskets in the paint to tie it 59-59 at the 8:34 mark.

Whitworth reclaimed the lead, but Clay Callahan buried a deep 3 to give Whitman its first — and only ­— lead of the second half.

“I thought we competed very well,” Bridgeland said. “We got down nine and came back and took the lead. Despite not being able to make shots at the line, I was very proud of our effort.”

Eisenhardt’s three-point play with 50 seconds remaining drew Whitman within three points, 73-70, and Dominic Lippi’s 3-pointer with 5.5 seconds on the clock cut Whitworth’s lead to two points, 78-76.

The Missionaries were then forced to foul, and the Pirates’ Kenny Love split a pair of free throws for the game’s final point.

Whitman’s Clay Callahan was fouled with 1.6 seconds on the clock as Whitworth prevented a 3-point attempt by the Missionaries. Callahan missed both free throws, the second one intentionally, but Whitman could not track down the rebound.

Whitman wraps up its regular season at Lewis and Clark on Saturday.

Whitworth 79, Whitman 76

WHITMAN (76) — Mounier 2-9 3-4 8, Eisenhardt 13-18 4-7 30, Oti 0-5 1-2 1, Lippi 2-5 1-3 7, Clough 2-3 1-2 6, Callahan 2-2 0-2 6, Duckworth 0-0 0-0 0, Chircu 2-4 0-0 6, Martin 1-3 0-0 2, Thompson 2-4 6-8 10, Hays 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-53 16-28 76.

WHITWORTH (79) — Valle 3-5 1-3 7, Douglas 0-3 1-2 1, McConnell 7-11 5-6 22, McCargar 3-5 7-9 14, Farnsworth 4-5 0-0 8, McNiel 0-0 0-0 0, Jurlina 3-11 7-8 14, Love 2-8 1-2 6, Wilks 3-3 1-2 7. Totals 25-51 23-32 79

Halftime — Whitman 40, Whitworth 79. 3-point goals — Whitman 8-19 (Mounier 1-5, Oti 0-1, Lippi 2-4, Clough 1-2, Callahan 2-2, Chircu 2-4, Thompson 0-1), Whitworth 6-17 (Douglas 0-1, McConnell 3-7, McCargar 1-1, Jurlina 1-4, Love 1-4). Total fouls — Whitman 27, Whitworth 23. Fouled out — Whitman (Oti, Chircu), Whitworth (Valle, McCargar). Technical fouls — none. Rebounds — Whitman 34 (Eisenhardt 6), Whitworth 31 (Wilks 8). Turnovers — Whitman 17, Whitworth 14. Assists — Whitworth 13 (McConnell 3, Jurlina 3), Whitman 10 (Thompson 4).


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