No. 1-ranked Whitworth University unleashed its “German Beast” early in Saturday night’s matchup against visiting Chapman in the second round of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament.
And with Felix Friedt flexing his muscle from opening tip to final buzzer, the Pirates were able to put away the 12th-ranked Panthers 77-63 in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 2,110 at Whitworth Fieldhouse.
Friedt, a 6-foot-8, 242-pound junior from Dusseldorf, Germany, scored 23 points and pulled down 13 rebounds, and teammate Michael Taylor added 21 points and six assists as the Bucs (26-1) advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the D-III tournament for the second year in a row and third time in school history.
Whitworth is expected to learn the site and opponent of its next game – which will be played on Friday – later today. Coach Jim Hayford is holding out hope that his top-ranked and No. 1-seeded team might still get to host the sectional semifinals, but admitted it was a long shot.
“The politics of it would say no,” he said. “But I’m an optimist in life, and I know I’m coaching the No. 1-ranked team in the country, and I think they’re worthy of playing on their home court.”
If the NCAA sends Whitworth packing, like it did last year, Pirates fans have seen the last of Taylor, and fellow seniors David Riley and Clay Gebbers, who also made big contributions to Saturday’s win over Chapman (25-3), a D-III independent.
Riley finished with 15 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field, and Gebbers, the Bucs’ best lockdown defender, was sensational in holding the Panthers’ Griffin Ramme without a field goal. Ramme, a 6-3 senior who was averaging 16 points a game, missed all six of his basket tries – each of which was vigorously contested by Gebbers – and finished with only four points.
Taylor, along with the work he did on the offensive end of the floor, also defended passionately, limited Chapman’s 6-4 senior forward Justin Riley to 10 points, six below his average.
“I thought we rode Michael in the first half and Felix in the second; anyone could see that,” Hayford said. “But, really, what won the game was our defense.”
And a lot of Whitworth’s stops ended with Friedt muscling down another rebound.
“Felix played just a great game, “Hayford said.
“I had fun out there tonight,” said Friedt, who made 7 of 10 field-goal tries and 9 of 11 free throws.
Friedt, who started slow in both of Whitworth’s wins in the Northwest Conference tournament, was involved from the start against Chapman, scoring two early buckets and clearing space underneath to dominate the boards. And he got better as the game progressed, sealing off his defender in text-book fashion and scoring 15 of his points in the second half.
“Whether it was me or one of the other guards throwing it in there, you could just see it in his eyes,” Taylor said, when asked about Friedt’s aggressive play. “And you knew he was going to make something happen – whether it was score, get to the foul line or draw in more defenders and open things up on the perimeter for the rest of us.”
Friedt’s big night came while he was dealing with the recent death of his grandfather. He is scheduled to fly back to Germany today to attend the funeral and then rejoin the team prior to next weekend.
“It’s a very emotional time for him,” Hayford said, “but he really has handled it well.”