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Whitworth men breeze by Willamette with former standout Kyle Roach in attendance

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 10, 2020

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

With the first half winding down and the Pirates already comfortably ahead, JT McDermott lofted a pass to Liam Fitzgerald near the rim.

Fitzgerald caught the ball on his way up and dunked it to finish the alley-oop, a designed play for the 6-foot-6 sophomore post.

“Two for four now,” senior Sam Lees estimated as Fitzgerald’s shooting percentage on such plays this season. “It’ll only go up, I reckon.”

It was that kind of night for the Whitworth men’s basketball team – a relatively easy one – as it dispatched the visiting Willamette Bearcats 97-56 on Friday at the Fieldhouse.

Nine bench players combined for 42 points for Whitworth, which built an 18-point lead less than 9 minutes into the game.

By the middle of the second half the lead had swelled to over 30, and Whitworth’s starters spent the rest of the game on the bench.

“It’s great just from a rest standpoint on the front end of a back-to-back, we get a little more rest coming into the second game,” said Lees, who scored a game-high 17 points. “It’s just good for team morale and for the young guys to get some experience.”

Senior Ben College scored a season-low 10 points but only played 24 minutes, his second-fewest of the year. Fitzgerald added 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals.

Sophomore Rowan Anderson set a career-high with 12 points, and nine Pirates players made a 3-pointer. Whitworth hit 14 of 28 3-point attempts.

The loss dropped the Bearcats to 1-11 overall and 0-3 in the Northwest Conference. Whitworth, ranked 22nd in this week’s poll, improved to 9-3 and 3-0.

Whitworth’s offense did all that without starting point guard Isaiah Hernandez, who missed his fourth straight game while recovering from a concussion.

Last season, the Bearcats beat the Pirates 95-93, ending Whitworth’s 22-game winning streak in the series. But with three freshmen in the starting lineup this season, Willamette couldn’t keep up with Whitworth and shot 35.6%.

Whitworth ranks ninth nationally in field-goal percentage (50.6%) and made 37 of 68 attempts (54.4%), getting assists on 19 baskets.

“There were quite a few really unselfish plays where the ball seemed to move around the court and find the open guy, and someone stepped up and shot it with confidence,” Whitworth coach Damion Jablonski said. “Those are definitely the fun ones, the ones that spur ball movement you’d like to see on every possession.”

The Pirates host Lewis & Clark (5-7, 1-2) at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Roach visit Fieldhouse

Kyle Roach attended Friday night’s game before heading to Australia to continue his professional career next month.

Roach, the fifth-leading scorer in Whitworth history and NWC Player of the Year as a junior in 2017-18, played for Vejen Basketball Klub in Denmark in 2019.

“It was fun. Good teams, a lot of young guys,” Roach said, “but I’m excited to be back. It was cold and dark there for a while.”

Roach said he will be playing for the Geraldton Buccaneers, who play in the 14-team State Basketball League in Western Australia.

Willamette women 85, Whitworth 72: Kassin Hopkins scored 20 points as the Bearcats (9-3, 3-0 NWC) used a big second quarter to top the Pirates (8-4, 1-2).

Sami Riggs added 18 points for Willamette, while Drew Farmer dished out 10 assists and had five steals.

Courtney Gray paced Whitworth 19 points. Sydney Abbott added 18 points and eight rebounds.

Tied at 19 after the opening quarter, the Bearcats outscored the Pirates 26-11 in the second period.

Whitworth hosts Lewis & Clark at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Fieldhouse.

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