In a battle of the top two teams in the conference, the men’s basketball team clinched the regular season Northwest Conference title in a 79-76 win over rival Whitman. This is the fifth consecutive season in which Whitworth has won the championship, an NWC record.
Whitworth got off to a good start on the first possession of the game when senior guard Dustin McConnell drove past his defender for a layup and the foul to take a 3-0 lead. A few minutes later, freshman guard Kenny Love hit a 3-pointer on his first possession off the bench for the second consecutive game to take a 6-3 lead.
The Pirates stayed in control, keeping the lead the entire half and taking a 40-36 lead into halftime.
Coming out of the break, Whitman looked to their leading scorer and reigning Northwest Conference MVP, junior forward Ben Eisenhardt who scored 13 of the Missionaries first 15 points in the second half.
“Ben’s a different level player. He started at a division one school for a reason,” head coach Matt Logie said. “You can choose to help and he’ll make other guys better, or you can try to make him beat you. And he almost did tonight.”
Later in the half, a 3-pointer from Whitman’s Clay Callahan gave the Missionaries their first lead of the game at 62-61. However a layup from junior forward Taylor Farnsworth gave the lead back to the Pirates.
Two possessions later, freshman forward Christian Jurlina made a momentum-swinging play. He stripped the ball from Eisenhardt in the post and then lead the fast break before kicking it out to McConnell for a 3-pointer, giving the Pirates a 67-62 lead.
“I just saw an opportunity,” Jurlina said. “I ran in the lane and their guys collapsed and I saw Dustin in the corner.”
Whitman would not go away as a pair of free throws and an Eisenhardt layup brought the game back to within one, but the Pirates responded with a 6-0 run to go up 73-66 with 1:35 to go in the game.
The Pirates then hit five of six free throws down the stretch to put the game away.
Following the game, the players celebrated with the fans and participated in the ceremonial cutting of the net after winning the title.
“Regular season championships are the standard bearer in team sports,” Logie said. “To be apart of three championships here so far is really special and I’m proud of our seniors for the way they’ve lead us all year.”
The Pirates were able to come out on top despite a career-high 30 points on 13-18 shooting from Eisenhardt, including 22 in the second half.
Whitworth was lead by the 22 points and three assists from McConnell, who for the second consecutive game played all 40 minutes. Senior guard Colton McCargar scored 14 points in limited minutes due to foul trouble and Jurlina scored 14 points and pulled down seven rebounds.
Whitworth will finish out the regular season Friday at Lewis & Clark.
James Silberman Staff Writer
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