SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth University started slowly, but warmed quickly to the task of knocking off 15th-ranked University of St. Thomas (Minn.) 85-64 in a non-conference men's basketball game on Saturday night at the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
The Pirates (4-0) started the game 1-8 from the field and fell behind the Tommies (1-1) 8-2 in the early minutes of the game. But Whitworth used a 24-6 run that spanned both halves and finished the game with a 57.1% shooting percentage to earn its first win over St. Thomas in three tries.
Meanwhile, the Pirate defense held the Tommies to only 25.4% (16-63) shooting in the game, 14.3% (4-28) from three-point range.
"I'm really excited about our defensive effort, which saved us after we started so slowly," said first-year head coach Damion Jablonski. "The defensive allowed us to stay in the game and we never let up."
After falling behind 8-2 on Ryan Lindberg's layup, Whitworth fought back to grab its first lead at 14-12 after a pair of free throws from Ben College.
Leading 16-15 with seven minutes to play in the half, the Pirates closed the first period on a 20-6 run. Reed Brown's three-pointer for the Pirates, the team's first make of the game from behind the arc, increased the lead to 21-15. Liam Fitzgerald's three-pointer gave Whitworth its first double-digit lead (28-16) and JT McDermott scored just before halftime to give the Bucs a 36-21 edge at the break.
Sam Lees scored the first two baskets of the second half to increase the margin to 19 points. The Pirates stretched their lead to 51-30 on a basket by Isaiah Hernandez six minutes into the second half.
"I knew St. Thomas would put together a run because they're a great program," Jablonski said. "I'm proud of the way our guys withstood it."
St. Thomas used a 10-0 run, including a three-point play by Anders Nelson and a four-point play from Zach Theisen, to pull within 53-42. Whitworth answered with six straight points, including Fitzgerald's dunk, to go back up by 17.
St. Thomas got back within 11 points twice in the final five minutes, the final time at 71-60. But Whitworth finished the game on a 14-4 run as UST continued to miss shots down the stretch against the Pirate defense.
College led Whitworth in scoring for the fourth straight game with 18 points. Hernandez added 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Jordan Lester dominated both ends of the floor with 15 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. Fitzgerald ended with nine points off the bench.
Nelson led UST with a game-high 25 points, but no other Tommie player reached double figures.
"As proud as I am of these guys for this win, it's just one step in our journey," Jablonski said. "On Monday we'll go back to work and try to get better."
Whitworth travels to St. Louis next weekend to compete in the Lopata Classic, hosted by Washington University. The Pirates will take on Wisconsin-Eau Claire on Friday afternoon.