No longer held captive on a bench plagued by a stubborn flu bug, Nate Montgomery unloaded his pent-up frustration Thursday night.
After scoring two points in his past two games combined, Montgomery powered his way to 31 points and 14 rebounds in host Whitworth’s 74-66 victory over Linfield in the semifinals of the Northwest Conference men’s basketball tournament.
The Pirates (21-5) are a win away from earning an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III national tournament. To secure that bid, however, Whitworth must win at Puget Sound (23-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday. UPS, the first NWC team to march undefeated through the 16-game conference schedule, topped Whitworth twice in the regular season – both times by a double-digit margin. UPS downed Lewis & Clark 86-74 Thursday night.
“We have to beat the third-ranked team in the country on their floor to go to the NCAA tournament,” Whitworth coach Jim Hayford said. “When we recruit players to Whitworth, we tell them there are going to be some great challenges.”
Linfield’s Cody Tesoro fired in a 15-foot jumper to give the Wildcats a 60-58 edge with just less than 5 minutes left in the contest. Montgomery then took over, scoring Whitworth’s next 14 points to give his team the lead for good.
Montgomery, a 6-foot-8 junior, stepped out and buried his third 3-pointer of the game to put Whitworth in front 65-60. After Linfield’s Erik Olson knocked down a shot from beyond the arc to trim the Pirates’ lead.