Maybe now they’ll start talking about the Whitworth defense.
The undefeated and second-ranked Pirates, owners of one of the nation’s best offenses, stymied No. 24 Lewis & Clark in the second half, handing the Pioneers a 79-52 loss at Whitworth Fieldhouse Saturday night.
“Ultimately, for us to go out there and beat another Top 25 (NCAA Division III) team like this is a great testament to how well this team is playing right now,” Whitworth coach Jim Hayford said.
The victory was Whitworth’s 32nd consecutive win at home, the 34th in a row against Northwest Conference opponents, and 19th straight to start the 2010-11 basketball season – each a school-best mark. The Pirates are 10-0 in Northwest Conference play with a three-game lead over second-place Lewis & Clark.
The Pioneers (14-5 overall, 7-3 NWC) cut the Whitworth lead to just three points, 36-33, in the first minute of the second half on uncharacteristic back-to-back turnovers by the Pirates, who led 36-29 at halftime.
Over the next eight minutes the Whitworth defense allowed just six points, with two of those coming from the free-throw line. By the time the Pioneers converted a field goal for their 38th and 39th points, the Pirates had built a 20-point lead.
“As a team we try to go out there and execute and not look at the scoreboard,” senior guard Michael Taylor said. “We have faith that by the time we’re done, we’ll have won. I think we did a pretty good job of doing that tonight.”
Whitworth outscored its nearest conference rival by 20 points in the second half and held the Pioneers to 23 percent shooting over the final 20 minutes. Lewis & Clark connected on just 16 of 51 shots from the field for the game (31.4 percent).
The Pirates shot 56.5 percent from the floor and converted 13 of 15 free throw attempts.
“The thing about this team is that we practice taking all those same shots every day in practice,” Taylor said. “By the time we get to a game, you’re already taken that shot a hundred times or more in practice.”
David Riley, who had eight points in the first half, led all scorers with 23 points for Whitworth. Taylor added 16 points.
The Pirates got strong inside play from 6-foot-8 Felix Friedt and 6-6 Jack Loofburrow, who combined for 21 points and eight rebounds.
“We wanted to go inside and try to get (Kelly) Edwards in foul trouble and we got three on him in the first half,” Hayford said. “I think we were a little more fluid on offense this time than we were down in Portland (where Whitworth won by 17 points in December).”
Point guard P.J. Taylor led Lewis & Clark with 13 points.
Whitworth is now one of just four unbeaten teams in Division III. Middlebury fell from the ranks of the unbeaten after losing 69-64 at Williams Saturday.
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