Mary Washington presented Whitworth with an intriguing set of challenges, the most obvious being its 6-foot-6 sophomore forward, Greg Rowson.
Rowson got his points on Monday night – a game-high 32 – and the Eagles played strong defense as they have all season.
But so did the 14th-ranked Pirates, who gave Rowson drives but didn’t let him or his Eagles’ teammates get very many open 3-point attempts, and the formula worked.
Whitworth beat Mary Washington 78-73 at the Fieldhouse, improving to 6-1 with another notable nonconference victory to start the season.
Senior Ben College carried the scoring load for Whitworth with a team-high 28. He sank all 10 of his free throws, including four in the final 15 seconds to seal the victory.
As a team Whitworth sank 21 of 22 free throws; Mary Washington hit 18 of 19.
A month ago at the Fieldhouse, Whitworth beat St. Thomas, 85-64. The Tommies (8-1), now ranked 5th in the d3hoops.com poll, haven’t lost since.
“The whole schedule has prepared us for our tough league. We’ve seen teams of all different size, they run different things, they have different tempos,” sophomore Rowan Anderson said. “(Mary Washington) is a very good team. They have a bunch of great players (who) can finish around the rim.”
The Eagles made 23 of 36 of their 2-point attempts and finished with 38 points in the paint. But from outside the arc, where the Eagles normally make 10 shots a game, they went just 3 for 30.
That was part of a calculated defensive strategy from the Pirates, who weren’t going to let the Eagles (7-3) beat them with 3s.
“They put you in a tough spot because they spread the floor with their five-out offense, they generally shoot the ball pretty darn well, (and) they pass the ball extremely well,” Pirates coach Damion Jablonski said. “So are you gonna take away the 3, or are you gonna take away the drive? It’s tough.
“They put you in some hard spots, but I thought our guys did a good job balancing that for the most part and coming up with a way to win.”
Rowson, the Capital Athletic Conference freshman of the year last season, epitomized that. He made 10 of 18 shots but went 0 for 5 beyond the arc. He came in shooting 14 of 51 from 3-point range this season.
“I’ll give him credit. (Rowson is) a really good player,” said Pirates senior Garrett Hull, who played a game at the Fieldhouse for the first time since suffering a season-ending knee injury here almost 13 months ago. “He’s tall, lanky and can shoot and can do it all.”
But as they have all season, the Pirates excelled defensively. In each of their six wins, they have held their opponents to no better than 40% shooting.
They also went with a 10-man rotation and got 34 points off the bench. Anderson led that charge with season highs in points (11) and rebounds (8). Junior Reed Brown also set a season-high with nine points.
Their emergence comes after senior Jordan Lester suffered a season-ending knee injury of his own against Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the only game the Pirates have lost this season.
This was the first meeting between Whitworth and Mary Washington, which is located in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The Eagles will play Northwest Conference teams Pacific and George Fox later this week.
The Pirates wrap up their nonconference schedule with two games at the Wooster Kiwanis Classic on Dec. 28 and 29. They will play John Carroll (5-3) and then the host, 24th-ranked Wooster (7-1).
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