Down three regular starters and less than a week removed from two close losses in Ohio, the Whitworth Pirates didn’t play their best half to start Friday night’s game at the Fieldhouse.
Ten turnovers. Five missed free throws. And yet, a one-point lead.
“We were really sloppy,” said senior Ben College, who scored a game-high 21 points. “We didn’t play with the intensity we know we need to play with and we know we’re capable of playing with.”
After halftime, Whitworth held Pacific Lutheran to 32.1% shooting and used a 14-3 run to seize control, cruising from there to a 75-59 victory in the teams’ Northwest Conference opener.
“We got stops, looked after the ball a little more, and the ball flowed more once we started trusting each other,” senior Sam Lees said.
The Pirates made nine of their first 12 shots after halftime and pushed their lead to as many as 19.
Whitworth (7-3 overall) was coming off a pair of losses at the EM “Mose” Hole Classic: a 95-89 defeat to John Carroll and an 87-82 loss to 24th-ranked Wooster, the tournament host.
The Pirates played against Wooster without three players who started the team’s first five games: senior Jordan Lester and juniors Chewy Zevenbergen and Isaiah Hernandez.
Lester is out for the season with a knee injury. Zevenbergen played only the game’s final minute against Pacific Lutheran (4-6).
Hernandez, the team’s starting point guard, went down late against John Carroll and is still suffering from concussion symptoms.
In Hernandez’s absence, senior Garrett Hull – who missed most of last year and the start of this one recovering from a knee injury – started at point guard. Hull played 25 minutes, had four assists and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
“What Garrett does is necessary for our success,” College said. “The intangibles he brings, the way that he plays. A guy like that’s always got a spot on the floor.”
Hull was spelled by sophomore Rowan Anderson, who had eight of Whitworth’s 29 bench points.
But perhaps most crucial was the play of junior center Reed Brown.
Making his third straight start, Brown had eight points, grabbed five rebounds and sank 2 of 4 3-point attempts.
“For me, he was the player of the game,” Pirates coach Damion Jablonski said of Brown. “He totally quarterbacked the defense. He’s so loud and communicative. He’s able to call out what our coverage is and help solve problems. … He was just in the right place pretty much all night.”
The Pirates, who play their first four conference games at home, host Puget Sound at 6 p.m. Saturday night at the Fieldhouse.
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