When an early lead evaporates as quickly as Whitworth University’s did at Whitworth Fieldhouse Friday night, it’s not always the fault of the team that lets it slip away.
The eighth-ranked Pirates made that abundantly clear following their 77-69 win over Lewis & Clark College in the Northwest Conference opener for both schools.
With former coach Jim Hayford on hand to be honored at halftime, the Bucs (5-0 overall, 1-0 in NWC) raced to a 20-7 lead, only to watch it dissolve in a matter of minutes – which forced them grind out a victory in a manner most of those in a crowd of 1,245 weren’t expecting.
“Actually, it was a lot of fun,” said junior guard Wade Gebbers, who finished with 17 points, seven assists and two steals as the Pirates ran their home-court winning streak to 40 by outscoring the Pioneers (3-3, 0-1) by 50-40 in the second half.
“We started out with a ton of intensity and really executed our game plan in those first 8 minutes, or whatever. But then we missed a couple of shots and they got on a little run, which is what happens in basketball. We might have lost a little of that early intensity, but Lewis & Clark is a great basketball team, and we figured it was going to be this kind of a game.”
Matt Logie, the Pirates’ first-year head coach, echoed those sentiments.
“Lewis & Clark is a good basketball team,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of talent, they’re well-coached, and they came out with a lot of intensity, too. We hit them with a good punch early, but as I knew they would, they responded well.
“I just kept preaching to our guys to maintain their composure and keep doing what we do, and they were able to do that.”
The Pioneers, who got a team-high 19 points from James Hollins, used some terrific half-court defense to put together a 17-3 run that not only erased Whitworth’s lead but gave them a 29-27 halftime lead.
But a little more than 6 minutes into the second half, Felix Friedt put the Pirates on his back, scoring five straight points to fuel a 9-2 run that put Whitworth ahead to stay.
Lewis & Clark managed to pull within 66-63 heading into the final 2 minutes, but the Pirates snuffed out any further comeback hopes by converting on nine of 10 late trips to the foul line.
Friedt, a 6-foot-8 senior center, made five of those free throws and finished with a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds. He was also a force down low on defense.
“Felix is just such a solid presence for us on both offense and defense game in and game out,” Gebbers said. “He had a huge game tonight with those 24 points, but the impact he had on defense was amazing.
“He takes up everything in the key and gets a ton of rebounds. He’s just solid all-around, and we know we can depend on him for that kind of performance every night.”