In a matchup of top-10 teams and Northwest Conference rivals, the Battle of Whits on Tuesday night did not disappoint.
But this time for the Pirates, there was no game-winning buzzer-beater.
In front of a packed crowd at the Whitworth Fieldhouse, visiting, fourth-ranked Whitman held off Whitworth’s late surge and survived a pair of last-second missed shots by the seventh-ranked Pirates for a 100-98 victory.
After Darne Duckett hit just 1 of 3 free-throw attempts on the Blues’ final possession, Kyle Roach advanced into the frontcourt with 18 seconds left and a chance for the Pirates to tie or take the lead.
But unlike last year’s NWC tournament, when Roach hit a buzzer-beating 3 to win, on Tuesday night he couldn’t find an open lane. He passed to sophomore Isaiah Hernandez, whose leaning jumper came up short.
Jared Christy swatted the rebound back to Ben College, who took an awkward double-clutch, put-back-style 3 that hit the edge of the backboard and rim, and the Blues held on to beat the Pirates for the eighth time in nine games.
“Ben’s made a lot of clutch shots for us, but there was not enough time left for him to get a good shot off,” Christy said of College’s final heave.
Whitworth led in the first half by as many as eight before going into half down five, 52-47. After the half, Whitman built a double-digit lead, but the Pirates eventually seized a one-point advantage on a College 3 from the corner, 96-95, with 2:35 left.
But Whitman (12-1, 4-0 NWC) regained the lead on back-to-back layups – finding the holes in Whitworth’s defense yet again – and Whitworth never led again.
The Pirates (11-2, 3-1) struggled with foul trouble in the first half. A pair of fouls landed Roach on the bench the last 9 minutes of the half – when he had just four points, all from the free-throw line – and point guard Jordan Lester played just 7, held scoreless during that span.
“The conference player of the year had to sit out for a while, and I think the players had a hard time adjusting,” coach Matt Logie said. “But that’s how all these games are. They’re very difficult to officiate; both teams are very aggressive, so you’ve got to figure out how to adjust, and I thought our guys did a great job of that. In the second half, we got stops.”
After halftime it was the Blues who landed in foul trouble, losing senior Austin Butler with 5 1/2 minutes left, clinging to a three-point lead.
Both teams shot well from the free-throw line: Whitman made 22 of 29, Whitworth 24 of 28.
College led the Pirates with 28 points, Roach added 19, and Hernandez scored 13 points in a career-high 33 minutes.
“He is arguably our best ball handler, almost impossible to trap, and he does a great job of making decisions,” Logie said of Hernandez. “He’s just been really coming on strong.”
Christy grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds and had 11 points for a double-double in 35 minutes of play.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.