Whitman ends Whitworth's unbeaten run

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Whitman athletics photo by Matt Banderas

WALLA WALLA, Wash. - When Whitworth walked into the Sherwood Center Tuesday night with its unbeaten record and No. 1 ranking, Whitman was licking its chops. After dropping the first game of the series in Spokane, Whitman was looking to end Whitworth's streak of perfection. 

It did just that. The Missionaries rolled to an 87-71 win over the top-ranked Pirates in Northwest Conference play. Whitman (17-3, 9-2 NWC) jumped out to a 9-0 lead to open the game and led wire-to-wire.

Entering the half with just a five point lead, it seemed the game could fall either way. The opening minutes of the second half would be the difference, Whitman came out blazing and extended the lead to 18, 52-34.

Whitworth (19-1, 10-1 NWC) made somewhat of a run and cut the lead to 10, but the Missionaries maintained their double-digit lead throughout the remainder of the game.

Tim Howell, the NWC-leading scorer, dropped 28 points on Whitworth and contributed three rebounds and two assists in the process. In response to where his performance came from Howell praised his teammates, "I give all the credit to my teammates, they push me in every day in practice." Howell continued, "I love this game and I want to help my teammates any way I can, if that means scoring, assists, rebounds, whatever it is I try to do it."

Philip Chircu added 13 points and four boards for the Missionaries, while Montez White and Christian McDonald combined for 21 points, five rebounds and three assists. The most impressive stat of the night came on the defensive end for the Missionaries as Whitworth was held to a meager 36.5 field goal percentage.

Head coach Eric Bridgeland was proud of his team's effort in the upset win, "We really fought thru some serious foul trouble with Austin [Butler] and Tochi [Oti] and our guys did a good job executing the game plan."

Whitman's opening lead grew to as many as 11 in the first five minutes of the game, but the Pirates were not going to go down without a fight. At the 12:45 mark of the first half, Whitworth pulled the game to within four.

With three minutes to play in the half Chircu connected on a three-point jumper that gave Whitman its largest lead of the game at 13. In what proved to be a streaky first half, Whitworth finished on a 6-0 run and entered the break trailing the Missionaries, 39-34.

A 13-0 Whitman run to open the second half put the Pirates in unchartered water, trailing by 18 points. Senior, Evan Martin scored six of the team's 13 within that stretch and lifted the Missionaries to the comfortable lead. From that point on, Whitman had their conference rival in panic mode. At one point it seemed the game would get close, but the Missionaries stayed poised maintaining their distance from the Pirates.

The win puts Whitman one game out of first place in the Northwest Conference standings. The Missionaries will need some help as they will not see the Pirates again in regular season play. Friday, Pacific visits Walla Walla for an 8 p.m. showdown with the Missionaries.

"Every game we prepare the same," Howell said when asked about the team's preparation. "Coach always says 'we have a one game schedule' and we want to protect home court at all costs." Whitman will need to make sure that preparation is on-par to avoid an upset-loss to the Boxers. Bridgeland echoed his star's remarks saying, "It's all about the process. We have a big game Friday."