WALLA WALLA, Wash. - The Whitman College men's basketball team graced the Sherwood Center floor for the first time in seven weeks, and treated the hometown fans to an energy-filled dose of Blues basketball. In convincing fashion and led by a game-high 20 points from Jack Stewart, Whitman maintained its spot at the top of the Northwest Conference with a 113-63 win over Pacific Lutheran on Friday night.
Stewart stated all of his 20 points in the first half where he shot a scorching 6-8 in three pointers and 7-9 overall. Austin Butler shot a perfect 4-4 from the field including three spectacular dunks with Jack Kath having a career performance off the bench with 12 points on 4-5 shooting from beyond the arc.
As a team, the Blues (15-1, 7-0 NWC) scored a whopping 50 points off 31 forced turnovers while shooting just shy of 50% (20-41) from beyond the arc.
Nasseen Gutierrez-Orosco led PLU (6-9, 3-4 NWC) with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists and Jack Poling chipped in 14 points.
The Blues exploded out of the gates, or rather Stewart did. In a span of just over a minute, he nailed a trio of three pointers and the Blues built an early 13-2 lead. Whitman kept the run going, using its patented pressure defense to lead to a handful of easy scores, notable a three ball from Michael Gutierrez and a stuff on a fast break by Butler.
Stewart kept his hot hand, hitting another pair of three pointers as the Blues built a 27-11 lead with 12:19 to play. The lead swelled to 29 points on a Trevor Osborne elbow three but the Lutes wouldn't let the game get completely out of reach just yet. A jumper from Carlton Brown followed by a Gutierrez-Orosco three pointer shaved the Whitman lead to 38-24 with 6:20 to play until the half.
That would be last sense of momentum the Lutes would have as the Blues unleashed a 19-2 half-closing run. Stewart closed the half with another pair of three pointers as part of the big run, giving him six for the half.
Never counting his chickens before they hatch, Coach Bridgeland kept his big guns in to start the second half but the group handled its business and made way for the bench to see extended minutes. Kath made an immediate impact with a corner three with Andrew Harvey going coast to coast before pulling up for a jumper just outside the paint, both bringing the bench and fans to their feet.
The Blues retake the court on Saturday against Puget Sound. Tipoff at the Sherwood Center is set for 6:00 p.m.