WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Kendrick Morris scored 24 points to lead Claremont-Mudd-Scripps to a 78-73 win over 8th-ranked Whitworth University in the first round of the NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament on Friday night at Whitman College's Sherwood Center.
The Staggs, champions of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference, improved to 23-4 and move on to the second round. The Pirates, who received an at-large bid to the tournament after finishing as runner-up in the Northwest Conference, saw their season end with a 23-5 record.
Whitworth had a chance to tie the game late, but Kenny Love's three-pointer was blocked by CMS freshman guard Miles President and he gained the rebound with 4.8 seconds to play. President made both free throws to clinch the win. Love had hit a big three-pointer to give the Bucs their last lead with just over three minutes to play in the game.
"It was a hard-fought game and you have to tip your hat to CMS," said Whitworth head coach Matt Logie. "They played very well and are a well-coached team."
The Staggs took the initiative to start the game, jumping to a 7-2 lead on a basket by Morris and extending the advantage to 17-8 on Riley Hall's dunk. Whitworth fought back to cut the margin to 32-30 on Kyle Roach's basket with 4:19 left. But CMS went back up 42-34 on another Morris basket with five seconds to go. Love drained a three-pointer from 30 feet at the buzzer to pull the Pirates to within 42-37 at the break.
CMS stretched the lead back out to 49-41 just over two minutes into the second half when Morris scored again. Trailing 51-44, Whitworth went on a 10-0 run to grab its first lead of the game. Love hit a three to get the Pirates within 51-47 and Ben College drained a three-pointer to pull his team within 51-50. Roach's three-pointer gave Whitworth a 54-51 advantage.
Trailing 59-55, CMS used its own 10-0 run to go back up 65-59, including a pair of three-pointers by SCIAC Player of the Year Michael Scarlett. Whitworth fought back to within 69-68 on a pair of Roach free throws and Love followed with his three-pointer that gave the Bucs a 71-69 lead with 3:36 to go. But President answered with a three-point play on the next CMS possession and the Staggs would not trail again.
Roach's layup with 52 seconds left pulled Whitworth back within 74-73 and he was fouled. But the potential game-tying free throw did not fall. Scarlett then hit a jumper with 22 seconds left to increase the CMS lead to three. Love looked for the game-tying three-pointer with nine seconds left when President made his big block.
"I think we played our best game of the year to beat them," said CMS coach Ken Scalmanini. "We got off to a good start then hit some big shots down the stretch."
Whitworth got 16 points from Love, 15 from Christian Jurlina, 13 from College off of the bench and 12 from Roach. Jurlina led the Pirates with seven rebounds. Whitworth shot only 43% (22-51) from the field overall, but made up for it by making 9-19 (47.4%) from three-point range and 20-28 at the free throw line.
"They hit us hard early, but I was proud of the way our guys responded," Logie said. "We just didn't quite make the plays at the end that we needed to."
Morris made 12 of 18 shots from the floor for the Staggs, who finished 30-57 (52.6%) from the field as a team. Jack Ely, who came into the game averaging six points per game, scored 17 and dished seven assists for CMS. President finished with 13 points while Scarlett scored a dozen.
Whitworth made its 11th straight appearance in the NCAA Division III tournament and 12th overall. Pirate seniors Love, Jurlina, Sears and Derek Isaak all played in the NCAA Tournament every year of their careers.