It may have been Valentine’s Day weekend, but the Pirates showed no love for Northwest Conference foes George Fox and Pacific on the last home games of the regular season. After defeating George Fox handily 90-76, the Bucs blew out the Pacific University Boxers on Saturday, 89-50, in what would be their second-largest margin of victory this season.
The George Fox Bruins boasted a No. 2 ranked scoring average in the NWC coming into the matchup at 76 points per game; however, they would be without the NWC leading scorer Jonny Howard (17.3 ppg) who was excused by the coaching staff for the game.
From the first Whitworth possession, the Bruins fell into a full-court press. The Pirates were not outwardly phased by the high-intensity defense early on, and junior forward George Valle set the offensive tone early with a 3-pointer.
“I think there were a couple times tonight when we got a little flustered with their full-court pressure,” Valle said. “We started throwing the ball all over the court and turning it over, but I think it takes someone to make a play at that point and step up and calm the tide and I was able to do that a couple times tonight.”
In many ways, the first half proved to be a showcase of patented Whitworth-style basketball. As such, aggressive play on both sides of the ball as well as good ball movement on offense led to an early double-digit lead for the Bucs. A late first half run with 1:30 remaining by George Fox would prove frustrating for head coach Matt Logie as the Pirate lead was cut to 11 when the first half came to an end. Logie was even called for a technical foul for hitting the front of the scorer’s table as the team made their way into the locker room.
“We were a little sloppy with our execution, a little sloppy with the basketball so we just talked about the things we do against the press and how to be better at it,” Logie said. “Guys just need to learn and grow from it. Some of these guys haven’t played against pressure like that very frequently and within our system so we’re growing and sometimes that comes with growing pains.”
The tight play characterizing the last few minutes of the first half continued through the first five minutes of the second. Logie began showcasing his frustration with referees more openly after foul calls and before time
outs. It took time for the Pirates to return to an offensive rhythm like the one they had during most of the first half. However, a 3-point-play opportunity from senior forward Adam Wilkes with 11:14 to go became the spark that would put the Bruins away for good.
With 1:17 left to play and a 20-point Whitworth lead, the last of the starters were subbed out en route to a 90-76 Pirate victory.
The Bucs finished the game shooting 50 percent from the floor with Valle adding 18 points and five rebounds to go along with sophomore forward Christian Jurlina’s 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Sophomore guard Kenny Love was noticeably quiet with his performance on Friday. In foul trouble early on, Love accounted for six points on 1-5 shooting from the field.
Senior night on Valentine’s Day against Pacific began emotionally for Wilkes and senior forward Taylor Farnsworth as they were recognized by the athletic department for their four-year participation on the basketball team.
“I can’t describe it, man,” Wilkes said. “I mean, I’ve been here for four years and to see four years of work culminate in not only a good game for me personally but, more importantly, a really, really solid team win against a good opponent. It means everything.”
While Valle started things off offensively with five of Whitworth’s first nine points as part of his 11 first-half points, Wilkes provided a significant offensive spark with eight points in the first half off the bench.
Pacific’s star players in Mitch Wettig and Riley Grandinetti were held to just nine combined points in the first half as the Pirate defense stifled the Boxer offense under the basket and beyond the arc. In the paint, the Boxers were stymied with just 10 points and zero second-chance points as part of just seven field goals made on 26 attempts.
The Pirates on the other hand were converting from every spot on the floor by shooting 50 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from beyond the arc and a perfect 100 percent from the stripe. Unlike the night before, Whitworth held their significant lead at the half, 41-23.
Despite the already one-sided game through one half of play, the Pirates continued their offensive and defensive onslaught and increased the lead to 66-32 with just over nine minutes to play. The lead increased even more to 39 points with six minutes to play before major substitutions were made.
The 89-50 victory for the Pirates would prove their largest margin of victory this season since their 103-49 victory over D’Youville on Nov. 15.
“Tonight was probably our best full effort on both sides of the ball. We were able to put a whole game together so that gives us a lot of confidence moving forward that we’ve seen what that looks like on both sides,” Logie said. “Hopefully we can continue to execute like that moving forward.”
The seniors, Wilkes and Farnsworth, combined for 18 points in their last regular season home game of their college careers. Jurlina added 16 and Valle came away with 18 points for the Pirates as well.
With these two wins, the Bucs close in on becoming the first NWC school since the 1965-70 Linfield Wildcats to win six NWC championships in a row. The two home wins also add to the over 150 home victories the Pirates have accumulated since the 2001-02 season.
The men’s regular season will conclude with games on Friday and Saturday at Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound with the NWC Tournament to follow the week after.