WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Clinching at least a share of second place in the final Northwest Conference standings, Whitman College wrapped up its regular season by romping past Willamette 103-71 in men's basketball action Friday night in Sherwood Center.
Playing before an enthusiastic crowd on Senior Night, Whitman scored early and often to finish its regular season at 11-5 in the NWC and 18-7 overall.
The victory, coupled with Puget Sound's loss tonight at Lewis & Clark, keeps Whitman's hopes for a home playoff game flickering for at least one more night.
Puget Sound's loss dropped the Loggers to 10-5 in conference (18-6 overall) as its heads to Linfield (3-15 NWC, 5-19) to conclude its regular season on Saturday night.
If the Loggers lose again -- and winning on the road in the NWC is never easy -- Puget Sound will slip into third place in the final standings, leaving Whitman all alone in second place.
And that means Whitman gets the No. 2 playoff seed and the chance to host a first-round playoff game next Thursday against Puget Sound.
If the Loggers get past Linfield Saturday, Puget Sound and Whitman finish the regular season in a second-place tie. Based on its two narrow victories over Whitman this season, Puget Sound would get the No. 2 playoff seed and first-round home game.
Whitman quickly took care of business against Willamette, breaking the game open by the midway point of the first half. Ahead 14-13 after six minutes of play, the Missionaries uncorked a six-minute 21-0 scoring flurry to vault into a commanding 35-13 lead.
The home team stretched its lead to 42-15 with six minutes left in the half and eventually led 52-25 at intermission.
The second half lacked much drama, although the Bearcats drew within 16 points at 64-48 with 12 minutes left, but Whitman soon widened its advantage back above 20 points and beyond.
David Michaels, one of four Whitman seniors honored prior to the game, sparked the Missionaries with 20 points and 10 rebounds. His 16th point of the night made the 6-foot-7 forward the 21st player in the history of Whitman men's basketball to reach the 1,000-point plateau in career scoring.
Senior guard Brandon Shaw chipped in with 11 points, pushing his career scoring total to 1,318 points.
Seniors J.P. Alvarez and D.J. Wright added seven and two points, respectively, to a Missionary offense that saw 14 players dent the scoring column.
Junior Peter Clark hit four of Whitman's 12 three-point baskets to score 12 points while sophomore Ryan Gilkey took the ball inside for 10 points.
The Missionaries also got nine points, seven assists and six rebounds from sophomore LuQuam Thompson, eight points from junior Ignas Pavilonis and seven points from sophomore Ben Eisenhardt.
Whitman out-rebounded Willamette 51-30. Junior Drew Raher hit the boards for eight of those rebounds.
After the two teams traded five-point mini-runs to start the game, Willamette took its only lead of the night at 9-7 on a Terrell Malley jumper.
Clark erased that lead with a 3-point strike with 16:16 on the clock. Gilkey for Whitman and Taylor Mounts for Willamette split the next four buckets to leave the Missionaries nursing a 14-13 lead.
And that's when Whitman got busy at the offensive end. Shaw and Pavilonis connected from the 3-point arc to trigger the 21-point onslaught. After Eisenhardt, Raher and Shaw drove inside for the next six points, Clark hit twice from long distance and Pavilonis added a final 3-point dagger.
By the time Ryan Meehan broke the spell with a layup, ending a seven-minute Willamette scoring drought, the Bearcats were down by 20 points.
The Missionaries kept up the pressure, getting a Michaels 3-pointer to start an 11-3 run that put the game all but out of reach before the first half was over. Whitman was eight of 15 from the 3-point stripe in the first half while shooting 55.3 percent from the floor overall.
Willamette stayed in the game to start the second half and eventually closed to within 64-48 on a Mounts bucket and free throw with 12 minutes remaining.
But after Eisenhardt made three of four free throws on back-to-back possessions, Raher nailed a 3-pointer for a 71-48 Whitman advantage at the midway point of the half.
It was the only 3-point try of the night for Raher, who is shooting an NWC-best 52.5 percent (31-59) from long distance.
Michaels, who made three of six from the beyond arc, is second the conference in 3-point accuracy, having made 35 of 76 shots, or 46.1 percent.
While the Bearcats were trying to claw their way back into the game, Michaels scored inside with 12:28 on the clock to reach the 1,000-point plateau in career scoring.
Willamette, slipping to 3-12 and 5-19, got 23 points and eight rebounds from Mounts while Meehan added 12 points. Joseph Jackson had eight points for the Bearcats, who had won three of their previous four games.
The Bearcats made 16 of 33 shots from the floor (48.5 percent) in the second half, but that wasn't nearly enough to overcome the big first-half deficit.
Willamette finishes its regular season Saturday night in Spokane against Whitworth.
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CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
509 527-5902; firstname.lastname@example.org