Whitworth wraps up league title, awaits NWC tourney

Saturday was Senior Night at Whitworth.

The problem – a nice one to have – is that the seniors aren’t quite ready to leave the Whitworth Fieldhouse, and they made that clear after the Pirates’ 93-65 men’s basketball win over Willamette in the regular-season finale.

“I can’t stop smiling, but we’re not ready to be done,” said senior Michael Taylor after they celebrated their third straight conference title and fifth in the last six years. “We’re not satisfied by any means.”

Next up is a Northwest Conference semifinal game at home on Thursday at 7 p.m. against fourth-place Lewis & Clark. If they win, the Pirates will host Whitman or Puget Sound on Saturday for the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament.

And after that? The Pirates have put in bids to host for any of the first four rounds of the nationals; theoretically, the seniors could still be playing here almost to spring break.

“I hope so,” said first-year head coach Matt Logie, whose team will carry a 22-3 overall record, 15-1 in the NWC, into the conference tournament. “We feel we have a lot of season left.”

Before the game, the school honored seniors Friedt, Taylor, Jack Loofburrow, and Idris Lasisi with a ceremony at halfcourt. All four started, along with junior guard Wade Gebbers, then cut down the nets.

“Tradition never graduates,” said Taylor, a key part of the Pirates’ frontcourt, especially when injuries sidelined forwards Loofburrow and Mack Larkin for part of the season.

Friedt opened the game with a 3-pointer, prompting cheers of “It’s all over” from the student section.

Not quite – the Bearcats stayed in the game for most of the half as Whitworth missed 13 of its next 16 shots from long range.

Willamette was no better, going 3 for 12 from downtown in the first half, but forged its last tie at 18-all with 10:46 left in the half. Then the Pirates got some breathing room on a fast-break basket from Lasisi, followed by a 3 from Loofburrow off a nice pass from Colton McCargar.

The Bearcats were within three with under 5 minutes left in the half, but Whitworth pulled away to lead 40-32 at intermission.

The lead stretched from there, and there was little doubt after Dustin McConnell’s 3 from the corner made it 58-42. A few minutes later, McCargar’s 3 made it 78-58 with 6:12 to play, and the celebration began.

In the final minutes, Logie was able to give each senior a chance to walk off the court to the cheers of the crowd. “It’s a testament to the leadership and the togetherness of these seniors to buy into everything the coaches brought,” said Logie.

Willamette had no answer for Whitworth’s inside game and was outscored by a staggering 48-16 in the paint; Friedt had 17 points barely 2 minutes into the second half and finished with a career-high 29 points and 13 rebounds, both game highs.

Loofburrow finished with 18 points, while Idris Lasisi had 12 points and eight rebounds.

Dustin McConnell added 12 points and Larkin had 10.

The only thing complicated about the night was the rest of the league: Three teams – George Fox, Lewis & Clark and Pacific Lutheran – entered the night tied for fourth place. PLU defeated George Fox, but lost out to Lewis & Clark on the league’s tie-breaking formula.

Willamette finished 3-13, 5-20.

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