TACOMA – The fourth-ranked Whitworth men’s basketball team may be perfecting the art of winning ugly. The Pirates survived a brutal first half stretch and won 62-53 at the University of Puget Sound in a Northwest Conference men’s basketball game on Friday night.
But as ugly as the offense might have been for a couple stretches on Friday, the defense saved the day as Whitworth improved to 17-1 overall and 9-0 in the NWC, while the Loggers dropped to 6-12, 1-8.
The Pirates actually came out of the gate on fire, making seven of their first eight shots from the floor to race out to a 16-3 lead five minutes into the game. George Valle scored the first five points for Whitworth on the way to a team-high 15.
But then the Bucs could hardly make a shot over the final 15 minutes of the half. After starting 7 of 8, Whitworth went 3 for 19 over the rest of the half. And Puget Sound started heating up. Rex Nelson’s layup gave the Loggers their first lead of the game at 20-19. Derek Jobe’s three-pointer extended the UPS advantage to 27-21 with two minutes to play, giving the Loggers their largest lead. But Valle was able to work a rebound into a pair of free throws with 1.8 seconds to go in the half that cut the Pirates’ deficit to 29-26 at halftime.
Trailing 35-31 early in the second half, Whitworth used a 10-0 run to take back a lead it would never relinquish. Mack Larkin and Wade Gebbers each hit three-pointers in the run.
But the Pirates hit another offensive wall and did not score again for five minutes of play. But UPS could only pull within 41-39 thanks to some tough Whitworth defense. Larkin finally broke the drought with a basket off of the glass with 9:22 to go. A pair of free throws by Nelson tied the game at 43-43 with 7:16 to play, but the Loggers never got over the hump.
Whitworth would outscore UPS 19-10 the rest of the way. Dustin McConnell had a key steal and layup and Larkin followed with a three-pointer that gave the Bucs a 55-47 lead with 3:30 to go. Zach Payne’s basket with 1:31 to play all but iced the game, giving Whitworth a 57-48 lead.
Behind Valle’s 15 points, McConnell added 13 and Taylor Farnsworth scored 11. Larkin finished with eight points and seven rebounds. Whitworth made only 39% (22-56) from the field, 29% (7-24) from three-point range.
Nelson scored a game-high 23 points off of the bench for the Loggers. No other UPS player was in double figures. Puget Sound finished the game 33% (18-55) from the field, 25% (4-16) from three-point range.
The Loggers outrebounded the Pirates 44-33, but Whitworth forced 16 UPS turnovers while committing only eight.
The Pirates will finish their trip to Tacoma with a game at Pacific Lutheran on Saturday at 6:00 pm.