In five extra minutes of overtime, the Whitworth men’s basketball team fought to prolong its visit to the Midwest but fell short with a 74-71 loss to the University of Virginia Wesleyan during the NCAA Division III Sweet 16.
Despite the disappointment of losing, head coach Matt Logie said he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I found out long ago my plans for myself and those around me aren’t nearly as impactful as what God has in store,” Logie said.
In the closing 30 seconds of regulation, Whitworth led by a point, but a foul charged to the Pirates allowed the Marlins to tie the game from the stripe with 21 seconds remaining. Logie opted for a timeout, designing a play for Lasisi to drive to the hoop. But time ran out before the play was executed and the game went into overtime.
“We had a couple of chances at the end [but] we couldn’t get that next defensive stop,” sophomore guard Dustin McConnell said. “It’s just kind of the way things went.”
A steal with eight seconds left in overtime gave the Pirates one last shot at a win, but the chance was stripped away when a jump ball was called, Virginia Wesleyan won possession and the Bucs were forced to foul.
“If we had more time I think we would have come away with a win,” senior forward Jack Loofburrow said. “But I guess you could say that with everything loss.”
Junior guard Wade Gebbers hit two free throws to put Whitworth on the board two minutes into the game. The Pirates struggled to connect on the offensive end, and Virginia Wesleyan led until the 12-minute mark when Loofburrow hit a 3-pointer to give Whitworth a 14-13 advantage. Loofburrow lead the Bucs with three treys on the game.
“He’s done that all year long,” Logie said. “Since he’s been back from his injury, he’s been such a spark off the bench.”
The Marlins buckled down on defense and held Whitworth to 42 percent from the field in the first half. But as they’ve done all year, the Pirates let their offense take care of itself and instead focused on shutting down Virginia Wesleyan defensively.
“We knew that to keep moving on at this part of the season we’d have to rely on our defense,” McConnell said. “We did a good job [defensively] and it kept us in the game.”
Whitworth faced a tight man-to-man defense and was forced to play a more physical game than it’s used to.
“[This was] probably the most physical game in the post season [and] the most athletic team we’ve played against this year,” Loofburrow said. “We’re used to being pressured, but our guards did do a good job getting the ball up the court.”
Junior forward Mack Larkin scored off a layup to keep Whitworth within four points of the Marlin’s lead and Loofburrow delivered on a 3-pointer to bring the Bucs within one as the clock ran down in the final minutes of the first half. But Whitworth was unable to regain the lead and went in to the locker room down 35-30.
“We talked at halftime that we were a few shots away from having a lead and not be discouraged,” Logie said.
A 10-2 run turned the tide of the game as senior post Felix Friedt went to work in the paint and fueled the Bucs to a 38-37 lead early in the second half. Multiple hustle plays by sophomore guard Colton McCargar kept Whitworth fired and Loofburrow scored five consecutive points to drive Whitworth to a 45-51 lead, its largest of the night, with 9:16 remaining.
“Felix did a good job attacking,” McConnell said. “[And] getting defensive stops and making it hard on the other team is huge.”
But the run was short-lived, as Virginia Wesleyan rallied back for the eighth lead change of the night. Senior forward Idris Lasisi drained a three to put Whitworth up once again, but as time ticked down and the Marlins were forced to foul, he missed the front end of a one-and-one. With just 21 seconds remaining in the game, Friedt was called for a foul and Virginia Wesleyan hit two free throws to tie the game at 61. Whitworth held the ball for the remaining 20 seconds but was unable to get a shot off before the end of regulation.
“We would’ve liked to close the door in regulation,” Logie said. “[But] we’ve been in that situation before so I felt good going into [overtime].”
The Pirates had their chances throughout the close overtime period; neither team built more than a three point lead.
“With five minutes [of overtime] I thought we could make a run, make some stops and close it out,” Gebbers said.
Gebbers drove the lane with 19 seconds remaining to give Whitworth a one-point lead. The Marlins answered with a floater on the left side of the key, and the Pirates found themselves down one with 10 seconds left for a last chance shot. Hope faded with a Whitworth turnover in the backcourt and Virginia Wesleyan got the ball back with eight seconds left.
McConnell made the steal of his career when he flicked the Marlin inbounds pass toward the Pirate end of the court, ran the ball down before getting shoved from behind, and recovered it in position to lay it in. Down to three seconds left on the clock, a Marlin player mauled McConnell from behind, tying him up under the basket. The referee called a jump ball, and the arrow pointed in Virginia Wesleyan’s favor. Lasisi fouled on the inbounds and the Marlins made two free throws to make the final score 74-71.
“We missed some free throws [and] had some turnovers, while they hit big shots when they needed to,” Gebbers said. “We had a chance to the end; they won.”
Friedt led the Bucs with 25 points and 10 rebounds, Loofburrow added 13 points, Gebbers scored 12 points and had three steals and Lasisi contributed 11 points.
“There are things you could go back and change,” Loofburrow said. “But if you think that way then it makes it a tougher loss than it needs to be.”
The No. 7 ranked Pirates closed out their season with a third consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 and a 26-4 record. A win would have placed Whitworth into the Elite Eight on Saturday night against host school Wisconsin-Whitewater.
“I’m proud I could experience this first season with this group of guys,” Logie said. “Hopefully the lessons they learn with us, in situations like this, will serve them well.”
Story by Corina Gebbers Staff Writer
Photo by Tanner Scholten
Contact Corina Gebbers at email@example.com.