SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth University survived a late rally by visiting St. Olaf College to win its 2016-17 men's basketball season opener on Saturday night in the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
The Pirates (1-0) led the Oles by as many as 12 points in the opening half and held a lead throughout the second half until St. Olaf (1-2) tied the game 66-66 on Austin Korba's three-pointer with 1:52 to play. But Drew Sears, Whitworth's 7-foot post who had a huge impact on the defensive end, made the key offensive play when he scored a layup Kenny Love's 12 assist of the game with just under a minute to play. Kyle Roach then stole the ball on the Ole's next possession and Love made both ends of one and one free throws with 4.8 seconds to go. Ben Scheffley hit a three in the final second to trim the final margin to one point.
"We got off to a great start offensively in the first half," said Whitworth head coach Matt Logie. "Then we did a better job adjusting defensively in the second half, forcing St. Olaf to the interior toward Drew, who did a great job tonight."
The game featured offensive flow in the first half and tougher defense in the second period. The Pirates made 50% (15-30) of their first half shots, including 7-11 (63.6%) from three point range. Whitworth hit four three-pointers in the first five minutes, taking a 21-9 lead on a three from Christian Jurlina. But St. Olaf was also hitting shots, making 48.1% (13-27) from the floor. The Oles cut the early 12-point deficit to 27-25 on Austin Majeskie's three-pointer. The Pirates stretched the lead out to 11 (41-30) before St. Olaf trimmed the lead back to 41-38 with under a minute to play. Love's three-pointer gave Whitworth its 44-38 halftime lead.
Sears had a major impact on the second half, getting three of his five blocks and altering several other shots. The Oles's shooting percentage dropped to 40% (12-30) after halftime. But the Pirates stopped hitting their shots with consistency as well. Whitworth made only 8-24 (33.3%) from the floor after halftime. The Bucs still led by eight (62-54) with six and a half minutes to go on Derek Isaak's three from the corner. That's when St. Olaf started its final rally, tying the game for the first time on Korba's three.
Roach led Whitworth with 20 points, Isaak scored 13 and Jurlina finished with ten. Love's 12 assists are a career-high. Sears finished with nine points and a team-high six boards to go along with his five blocked shots. The Pirates finished the game with a team shooting percentage of 42.6.
"Our experience showed down the stretch, with Kyle getting the big steal and Kenny making the free throws," Logie said.
Four Oles reached double figures, led by Majeskie's 20 points. Korba finished with 14 and Robert Tobroxen added 12. Frank Delaney scored 10 points off of the bench. Majeskie also grabbed seven boards. St. Olaf finished the game 43.9% from the field.
Tonight's game was the first-ever meeting between the Pirates and Oles in men's basketball, even though both programs have been fixtures in the NCAA Division III west region rankings and national tournament in recent seasons.
Whitworth returns to action next weekend, hosting Texas Lutheran University and Schreiner University on Friday and Saturday in the Quality Inn Whit Classic. Whitman College will be the fourth participant.