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Pirates stop PLU in conference opener

In a tale of two halves, the Whitworth Pirates managed to score when it counted in earning a 63-56 come-from-behind men’s basketball win over visiting Pacific Lutheran Friday at the Fieldhouse.

After finishing the first half in an offensive deep-freeze, the Pirates went on a 14-0 run in the second half, going from five points down to take a nine-point lead with 5:30 left to play.

The win gives the 20th-ranked Pirates (4-1 overall, 1-0 in Northwest Conference) a lift going into tonight’s league matchup with Puget Sound. Pacific Lutheran fell to 2-6, 0-1.

“Early on, I think both teams took a bunch of jabs,” Whitworth coach Matt Logie said. “It was a lot like a boxing match, except I don’t think either team really knew where to punch.

“We went pretty cold at the end of the half and missed a bunch of shots that we normally make, and with a young team that can be frustrating. I think our guys did a good job and stayed positive.”

“We just had trouble getting into rhythm,” junior guard Dustin McConnell said. “We just kept at it and found it in the second half.”

Before the Pirates could heat up against the Lutes in the second half, they needed first to thaw out.

After Colton McCargar drilled a 3 with 4:06 left in the first half, the Pirates went 0 for 5 on layups and did not score another point until a minute into the second half. PLU, meanwhile, went on a 9-0 run going into intermission and led 29-24.

In the second half, it was the Lutes’ turn to go cold on offense. PLU went scoreless for almost 10 minutes in the second half.

Both teams played solidly on defense. The Lutes lead the conference in defense, allowing opponents to score less than 61 points per game coming into the opener.

“I think this game showed that our bread and butter has to be our defense,” Logie said. “Our offense can come and go. We have to stay consistent with our defense if we’re going to win games.”

Freshman guard George Valle was the team’s leading scorer for the third straight game, finishing with 16 points while senior Mack Larkin added another 12.

“I think if you watch me in the first few minutes, even the first half, you’ll see me messing up until I get through my nerves and get into the game,” Valle said. “But once I get into the game, I have this ability to slow the game down in my head.”

Whitworth came into its conference opener ranked 20th in the Division III poll (, dropping five places despite winning at Montana Tech and at home against UC Santa Cruz.

“Playing back-to-back games like this, we haven’t had a chance to really study UPS yet,” Valle said of tonight’s opponent. “We have a couple film sessions scheduled for tomorrow and the coach does a great job of breaking things down for us and showing us what we need to know.”

The Pirates got back starting guard Wade Gebbers.

The senior team captain missed both games last week, and scored his first field goal since the season-opening loss to fifth-ranked St. Thomas.