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Top-ranked Whitworth roars back from halftime deficit


So could this be what Whitworth will face down the home stretch of this season?

Earlier in the week, Pirates head coach Jim Hayford said it was an honor and privilege to be ranked No. 1 in the NCAA Division III ranks. Though there could be little disagreement to that, what it may also bring is the opposition’s best shot at the Pirates.

In front of another packed gym at the Whitworth Fieldhouse Saturday, the Pirates kept their record perfect with an 89-66 Northwest Conference men’s basketball win over the George Fox Bruins.

Amid chants of “undefeated” from the student body, Whitworth sports a 23-0 record overall and 14-0 in the conference.

Whitworth clinched the NWC title the night before and secured home-court advantage for the conference playoffs.

But Saturday’s win wasn’t nearly as easy as the blowout victory against Willamette the night before.

The Bruins (7-16, 5-9) led 43-40 at the half and were being smoked by George Fox’s 5-foot-9 point guard Stephen Wiseley, who scored 18 points by intermission. It was only the second time all season the Pirates trailed at halftime.

As for George Fox, just the night before against Whitman the Bruins were beaten 79-58 and mustered 22 first-half points.

Any George Fox dreams of toppling Whitworth ended quickly in the second half when the Pirates put the game away with a 24-6 run. Half those points came from guard Wade Gebbers.

Gebbers continued his second-half scoring binge and scored all 20 of his points after halftime.

“We started off kind of dead,” Gebbers said of Whitworth’s first-half start. “Being the point guard, I just took it upon my shoulders to get things going after the half.”

Despite the Bruins’ monumental first-half effort, Wiseley collected three fouls in the first half and was done for the night when he got his fifth not even midway through the second half.

The game marked Senior Night for Whitworth’s Michael Taylor, David Riley, Clay Gebbers and Troy Kalbhenn.

Hayford recognized Kalbhenn and rewarded him with a spot in the starting roster. He hit a 3-pointer late in the second half to get in the scoring column.

Hayford cited high emotion on Senior Night as one potential reason his team lacked its usual defensive intensity.

“It’s a night where things start out and you’re not in your normal routine,” Hayford said. “But I’ve got to give credit to George Fox. They came out and played one heck of a half.”

The Pirates return to action Tuesday night at Whitman in what could be a difficult test as the Missionaries have won seven straight.

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