No. 2 Whitman Men's Basketball Edges Linfield On Senior Day, Cuts Down Nets

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ALLA WALLA, Wash. – No one was going to forget this one, not on Senior Night, not when the Whitman College men's basketball team honored seven seniors who have redefined program culture while becoming one of the winningest senior classes in the national history of Division III hoops.

Austin ButlerJoey HewittJack StewartCedric Jacobs-JonesBen BeatieJase Harrison and Jojo Wiggins were flanked by friends and family and feted prior to tip-off in an emotional, languorous ceremony on the floor of the Sherwood Athletic Center here Saturday.

No one was going to forget. And then the game happened.

The second-ranked Blues' 105-100 victory over Linfield, which clinched Whitman's third consecutive Northwest Conference title outright, was unforgettable and even a little unbelievable. Its final 13 minutes featured more twists and turns than the autobiography of an ancient snake.

In that span, the Blues (22-1, 14-0 in NWC) overcame a 12-point deficit and pulled out a victory on a night when the visitors began the game by making their first 10 shots, including eight 3-pointers, and were still shooting north of 60 percent (from the field, from deep) after numerous Whitman charges had failed to budge the unflappable Wildcats.

Grant Gibb (6 of 7 on 3-pointers) had just rained in a 3 to make it 76-64 Linfield with 12:39 left in the game. His make raised the Wildcats' 3-point shooting percentage to 63.6.

The Blues had earlier in the half trimmed a double-digit deficit to three, only to see it swell back to 11, and then cut their disadvantage to five, which Linfield immediately ballooned back to 13.

It had been like that all game.

So when Hewitt scored inside; and Stewart converted a put-back, stole the ball and hit a free throw; and Butler knifed inside for a bucket; and junior Trevor Osborne made two of three at the line after getting wrecked while attempting a 3, the grumble of the crowd increased -- but was flecked with doubt.

At this point, Blues head coach Eric Bridgeland walked in front of the scorer's table and exhorted the crowd to get involved.
Which it did.

Osborne's free throws had made it 76-73, Linfield, which of course responded with a 3-pointer (by Tanner Autencio, who made 6 of 12 from out there and led all scorers with 23 points).

Hewitt and Wildcat Liam O'Reilly traded baskets, leaving Whitman down six with 9:26 left.

Hewitt made two free throws. Butler, the national active career leader in steals, stole the ball, then made two free throws to pull the Blues with two.

Junior Rob Colton stole the ball and was hammered from behind on a breakaway, drawing an intentional foul call. Despite missing both free throws, he scored on the ensuing Whitman possession on one of Butler's team-high five assists.

Tie game.

Butler scored inside to give Whitman its first lead, 83-81, since the 17:48 mark of the first half. Linfield hit two free throws to tie it for the last time.

A 3-ball by Stewart (11 points, two steals) gave the Blues the lead for good, sparking a sequence that included five Hewitt steals within a 14-5 Whitman run which culminated in Osborne's 3-ball on an assist from sophomore Darné Duckett.

That made it 97-90, Blues, with 4:20 remaining.

Linfield would cut its deficit to three with 1:08 left, and again – after Osborne's corner 3 on a kick-out from Butler had made it 103-97, Whitman, with :53.4 left – with :36.7 to go on a 3 by Riley Bruil.

Whitman rebounded a Linfield miss inside the final 10 seconds, and Hewitt scored his 18th and (team-high) 19th points at the free throw line with 8.4 ticks remaining for the final margin.

Jacobs-Jones finished with 18 points and six rebounds in just 20 minutes of burn, hitting 6 of 7 from the field. Butler had all 14 of his points in the second half and made 6 of 10. Osborne scored 16 points.

Harrison, who missed the entirety of the 2017-18 season with an injury, entered the contest averaging 4.4 points per game and shooting around 30 percent from the field, numbers which belie his past dalliances with all-Americanism and trace a frustrating but hopeful trajectory. He had 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting Saturday, and kept Whitman from falling too far behind.

Duckett added five assists and three steals. Wiggins went 2 of 3 and scored six points during a key five-minute stretch in the first half, and Beatie helped calm a tottering Blues' defense in the first half with solid minutes.

Linfield opened the game on one of the more memorable opponent tears in Sherwood Center history. The Wildcats didn't miss a shot until the 12:33 mark of the first half, at which point they held their biggest lead, 29-17, so far.

Harrison and Wiggins helped steady the Blues. After an Osborne 3-pointer (running his streak of consecutive games with at least one made 3 to 29), Harrison scored 11 of Whitman's next 16 points. Wiggins scored the other five, including a three-point play.

The Blues carved their deficit to four points three times down the first-half stretch: 33-29 on Wiggins' post score with 7:47 left, 43-39 on a basket by Jacobs-Jones (created, in part, but a Duckett steal) with 3:16 to go, and 46-42 when Osborne was fouled on a 3-point attempt and converted all three free throws at the 2:24 mark.

Linfield proceeded to score the next nine points, including a four-point play by Autencio, who led all first-half scorers with 16 points and was 5 of 8 from deep. That extended the largest margin (13 points) of the first half; Stewart pulled it back to 10 with a 3-pointer that left it 55-45, Linfield, at the break.

Linfield cooled off as the first half unfurled, but only a little: the 'Cats checked into recess shooting 66.7 percent from the floor (18 of 27) and 61.1 from 3-point range (11 of 18). 

The four seniors who joined the program in 2015 – Butler, Hewitt, Jacobs-Jones and Stewart – are all among the nation's top 19 active career leaders in games played. Wiggins, who joined the Blues in 2014 but missed the 2017-18 campaign with an injury, is 34th.

Whitman improved to 106-9 since Butler, Hewitt, Jacobs-Jones and Stewart joined the program. This includes a 9-3 record in the NCAA national tournament.

The win Saturday extended an 18-game winning streak and was Whitman's 54th consecutive regular-season conference victory.
The Blues close the regular season with games in Tacoma next weekend: at the University of Puget Sound at 8 p.m. on Friday, then at Pacific Lutheran University at 6:00 p.m. Saturday.