WALLA WALLA, Wash. - In a season that celebrated the magnificence of a historic senior class, it was an underclassmen who came off the bench that led the Blues to the promised land. Andrew Vickers scored a career and team season high 32 points to guide the No. 2 Whitman College men's basketball team to a 107-102 win over No. 19 Whitworth to claim the Northwest Conference Tournament title on Saturday at the Sherwood Center.
In a rematch of last season's tournament final played on the same floor (with different results), Vickers shot a scorching 6-7 in three pointers and shot 9-13 overall for which the Pirates had no answer. The junior forward was not alone, though, as Austin Butler delivered a showing of his own completely validating his selection as the league's MVP. He put the Blues on his back early in the second half to help erase a 10-point deficit, finishing with 22 points, nine rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
Whitworth saw a tremendous effort from Kyle Roach go by the wayside. Roach played all 40 minutes and scored a game-high 38 points but with only 10 coming after halftime. Jordan Lester put up 28 points with Jared Christy adding 10 rebounds and six assists.
Butler's early second-half push was much needed as the Bucs delivered a haymaker to close the opening period. A Vickers three pointer shaved what was once an eight-point lead down to three, but Whitworth went on a 9-2 run in the final 1:45 of the first half. A series of Whitman turnovers and fast break buckets lifted the lead to 10 points at the break.
The Blues returned from the locker room a changed team. Whitman reeled off 11 straight points to open the half capped by a Jack Stewart (8 pts) three pointer to give his team its first lead since midway through the first half.
Whitworth would not go away though, but neither would Vickers. Trailing by three points with 14:23 to play, he drilled a game tying-three pointer then, on the next possession, went inside hitting on a contested layup and finished the three point play after getting fouled.
The Blues continued to heat up as their deep bench kept their legs fresh. Hard earned buckets in the paint from Butler and Darne Duckett, coupled by a Stewart three ball extended the lead to 78-69.
Whitworth kept it close but the form that had carried the Blues all year long came into being as the lead stretched to double digits on a Cedric Jacobs-Jones layup. After Butler's layup lifted the lead to 16 points with 5:29 to play, the writing was on the wall and it read "Whitman Blues: 2019 Northwest Conference Champions".
The win gives the Blues the league's automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament and the only question now is where they will open the sub-regional. The NCAA announces its selections on Monday at 12:30 p.m. ET (10:30 a.m. PT).