SPOKANE, Wash. – Sixteenth-ranked Whitworth outscored visiting George Fox 13-2 over the final 90 seconds of regulation to force overtime and the Pirates went on to defeat the Bruins 105-101 in a Northwest Conference men's basketball game on Saturday night.
Whitworth somehow improved to 19-4 overall and 13-1 in the NWC after rallying from as many as 18 points down. The Pirates move one win away from an unprecedented fifth straight NWC title. The Bruins, who handed Whitworth its only conference loss of the season in January, fell to 14-8, 7-6.
"Where do you start after a game like that?" said head coach Matt Logie. "I'm so proud of our team. We showed a great deal of heart and character tonight. I love these seniors and I'm so proud of the way they led us."
Perhaps still in the afterglow of a pregame Senior Night presentation, Whitworth fell behind 25-7 in the first five and a half minutes of the game. Jason Martin, Sean Atkins, Spencer Bolte and J.J. Lacey all hit three-pointers for the Bruins in the early going. Whitworth clawed back within 38-32 on a layup by Colton McCargar, but the Bruins would eventually take a 51-40 lead into halftime after Grant drained his second three-pointer of the opening period with 24 seconds to play.
GFU went 8-15 from three-point range in the first half, similar to the start the Bruins had in a 98-85 win over Whitworth on January 17th. George Fox made better than 60% of its shots from the floor overall. Meanwhile Whitworth was only at 42% overall and 25% (2-8) from three-point range.
When Dustin McConnell scored inside to pull the Pirates within 59-58 just over six minutes into the second half, it appeared the Bucs had finally taken control of the game. But the Bruins turned that rally aside with the next five points. Every time Whitworth got close, George Fox would respond. The final time came after George Valle pulled the Bucs within 86-81 on a pair of free throws. But Bruins went on a 7-1 run to go up 93-82 with 1:30 to play.
Whitworth persevered. Taking advantage of three missed free throws and a turnover, McCargar and McConnell keyed the final rally. McConnell's three-pointer with 42 seconds to play tied the game 95-95. He had a chance to win it in regulation, but his jumper rimmed out at the buzzer.
Whitworth never led in regulation and the Pirates never trailed in overtime, going up 97-95 on a jumper by Christian Jurlina on the first possession. When Valle scored at the shot clock buzzer with just over two minutes to play, Whitworth retook a 99-97 lead. Then McConnell's driving layin with 19 seconds to go gave the Pirates a 104-99 lead that could not be overcome.
Whitworth hit 60% from the field in the second half and overtime to finish 52% from the floor. The Pirates were 5-9 from three-point range in the second half. McCargar finished with 22 points, 20 after halftime, to lead seven Bucs in double figures. Jurlina had 16 and Kenny Love 15 off of the bench. McConnell scored 12 of his 14 points after the break. Taylor Farnsworth had nine rebounds.
The Bruins didn't cool off in the second half, making 62% from the field, but they got cold in overtime, going 0-6. Bolte and Atkins scored 20 points apiece, while A.J. Grant had 19. Seth Brent scored 14 and led the Bruins with nine rebounds.
Whitworth needs only one win in its final two games to clinch the regular season NWC crown. No conference school has ever won five men's basketball championships in row. The Pirates will get their first chance when they host second-place Whitman on Tuesday night at 8:00 pm.
George Fox, still very much in the hunt for the fourth and final NWC playoff spot, will play fellow playoff contender Lewis & Clark on Tuesday night.