TACOMA, Wash. – Sixth-ranked Whitworth held off Puget Sound 69-62 on Saturday night to clinch a home game in the upcoming Northwest Conference men's basketball tournament.
The visiting Pirates improved to 20-3 overall and 11-3 in the NWC, which will get them second place in the final regular season standings and the right to host a tournament semifinal.
Whitworth had to work hard to hold off the Loggers (12-11 overall, 5-9 NWC) after building a 15-point lead with less than ten minutes to play. Puget Sound was fighting for its NWC tournament life and needed a win to stay alive for the fourth and final conference playoff spot.
Kenny Love and Christian Jurlina combined to go 4-4 from the free throw line in the final 24 seconds after the Loggers had cut the deficit to three points (65-62).
Whitworth used a 9-2 run over the final four minutes of the first half to build some breathing room. After Easton Driessen scored to pull Puget Sound within 24-23, the Pirates scored seven straight points to begin to pull away. Whitworth led 33-25 at halftime despite shooting only 11-28 (39.3%) from the field in the opening half and 2-9 (22.2%) from three-point range. But the Bucs were 9-11 from the free throw line.
Whitworth extended the lead to double digits in the opening minutes of the second half. Drew Sears scored to give the Bucs a 45-31 lead. When Ben College drained a three-pointer the Pirates were ahead 51-36 with 9:09 to go.
But Puget Sound fought back, cutting the lead to 57-53 with 4:13 to go. Derek Isaak pulled up and hit a big three-pointer to stem the momentum. After Whitworth went back ahead 65-57 with less than a minute to go, Puget Sound got two free throws from Driessen and a three-pointer by Carlos Mancasola to cut the margin back to 65-62. Then Love and Jurlina calmly hit their free throws to secure the win.
Jurlina led Whitworth with 19 points and Roach added 15 points with nine rebounds. Isaak scored five of his ten points in the final three minutes of the game. Love and Sears each grabbed 11 rebounds as the Pirates finished with a 47-35 edge on the backboards.
Driessen came off of the bench to score a game-high 20 points for Puget Sound. Mancasola added 11 points and seven rebounds.
Whitworth will finish the regular season next weekend by hosting George Fox and Lewis & Clark.