Lewis & Clark took the lead with 8 minutes left but No. 16 Whitworth got several huge blocks and turned that momentum into a 69-58 win Saturday in Spokane that qualifies the Pirates for their ninth-straight NCAA Division III tournament.
After the team cut down the nets, Whitworth coach Matt Logie walked into the locker room and the Pirates roared for several minutes as they celebrated yet another Northwest Conference tournament championship.
“It’s really unbelievable,” Logie said of the nine straight championships. “Everybody knows how special March Madness is. We have a lot of pride in our tradition.”
But someone forgot to tell the Pioneers that Whitworth (24-3) was supposed to go dancing. Lewis & Clark (16-11) upset Whitman on Thursday and the Pioneers were poised to do it again.
They erased an 8-point deficit largely on the 3-point shooting of Jason Luhnow to take a 51-50 lead with 8:08 left in the game.
After Matt Staudacher hit a layup to retake the lead, senior post Adam Wilks got a put-back to make it 54-51.
Senior Taylor Farnsworth then blocked a layup attempt by the Pioneers’ Serg Ovchinnikov and the Whitworth student section exploded.
Luhnow hit another 3-pointer to get the Pioneers back to one point at 56-55, but the Pirates outscored Lewis & Clark 13-3 the rest of the game.
“We were fortunate that they missed a couple of shots in their hot streak,” Logie said. “Taylor and Adam (Wilks) came up with some huge blocks and our defense carried us down the stretch.”
Sophomore guard Kenny Love, the conference player of the year, led the Pirates with 20 points and junior forward George Valle added 19.
“I thought George was terrific,” Logie said. “He was able to score inside and outside. His 3 from the left wing was monumental.”
Valle took his time, set his feet and nailed the 3-pointer with 3:07 remaining in the game to put the game out of reach at 63-55.
“I’ll take it,” Valle said. “I think that’s the thing about this group – we are pretty dang good at overcoming adversity.”
The Pirates now must wait until 9 a.m. Monday morning to find when and where they will play.
“You’ve got to give credit to the culture here at Whitworth,” he said. “From Warren Friedrichs, to Jim Hayford to Matt Logie, you’ve got to love the process.”
Sophomore wing Christian Jurlina scored 10 points and senior post Wilks had eight. Farnsworth struggled from the floor, but finished with six points and eight rebounds.
The Pirates shot 48.3 percent from the floor and outscored the Pioneers 40-30 in the paint. Whitworth also scored 16 points off of 16 Lewis & Clark turnovers. Luhnow led the Pioneers with 14 points.
To start the game, Whitworth again came out tight and struggled to do anything but turn the ball over to the Pioneers. After the teams traded the lead five times, Love dribbled the last few seconds off the shot before launching a 3-pointer that hit just before halftime to make the score 31-26 at the break.
“That’s pretty incredible,” Farnsworth said of the nine-consecutive championships. “It’s tough because we get every team’s best shot every night. It’s just a credit to all those guys and how hard they’ve worked.”
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