On a night when the gunpowder normally used to ignite Whitworth University’s ample arsenal of scoring weapons seemed a bit damp, the Pirates turned to some smothering man-to-man defense to brush aside Northwest Conference rival Pacific University 86-62.
The Bucs (10-2 overall, 3-0 in the NWC) overcame some early shooting woes by holding the Boxers (4-8, 0-3) scoreless for the first nine minutes of Friday night’s matchup, and then found their shooting touch in the second half to cruise to their ninth consecutive win in front of a Whitworth Fieldhouse crowd of 1,325.
Nate Montgomery paced the Pirates’ offense with 19 points, Eric Beal added 15 and David Riley and Jack Loofburrow also finished in double figures. But it was his team’s defense that drew the most praise from Bucs coach Jim Hayford.
That first ten minutes of the game was a pretty stellar defensive job,” he said. “I think that sent a message, because then their guys couldn’t get in any kind of rhythm, they got a little frustrated and they were second guessing themselves a little bit.
“It was nice to see us come out that way and show we weren’t going to take this challenge lightly.”
Whitworth, which came into the game shooting almost 48 percent from the field, misfired on five of its first six basket tries but still managed to open the game with 12 unanswered points, courtesy of a splendid defensive effort that not only rushed Pacific into missing its first nine shots, but also forced the Boxers into five turnovers on their first 11 possessions.
Pacific shot only 28.6 percent (8-28) in the opening half and trailed 38-28 at intermission. And when the Pirates opened the second half with a 19-10 run, it was over.
Montgomery, a 6-foot-8 senior center from Sammamish, was a beast on the low blocks – particularly in the second half, when he muscled in 15 of his points and gathered in nine of his game-high 11 rebounds to post his second double-double of the year.
“I told him at halftime, ‘Nate, we need a little bit more out of you tonight,’ ” Hayford explained. “And he responded by showing what kind of a player he really is in the second half.”
Beal, a 5-11 senior point guard and first-year transfer from Concordia (Calif.) University, made only one of six field-goal tries but knocked down all 12 of his free throw attempts and also handed out a game-high nine assists.
“He was just solid again,” Hayford said of the former Ferris High School standout, who came in averaging a team-high 14.5 points per game. “And the more comfortable he gets, the more he shows he’s a special kind of player.”
Riley, after scoring only three first-half points, finished with 11, while Loofburrow added 10.
Pacific, which shot only 30.2 percent from the floor, got 16 points and six rebounds from senior center Ross Bartlett.
Whitworth plays at home again tonight, taking on George Fox in another NWC showdown that tips off at 8.