Lewis & Clark was in a zone early Thursday night, but so was Idris Lasisi.
When Whitworth fell behind early, Lasisi kept the Pirates in the game in a 79-61 win over the Pioneers in a Northwest Conference men’s basketball semifinal tournament game at Whitworth Fieldhouse.
“Everyone can do it. If someone isn’t hitting, then someone else steps up, and tonight was my night,” said Lasisi, who finished with 27 points and eight rebounds to help put the 10th-ranked Pirates within a game of an automatic bid to their sixth straight NCAA Division III national tournament.
That game will come Saturday against Puget Sound, which defeated Whitman 79-62 in the other NWC semifinal in Tacoma. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
Pairings for the national tournament will be announced Monday.
Thursday’s game started poorly for the Pirates, who missed their first eight shots against a zone defense. By the time Lasisi ended the drought with a 15-foot jumper, the Pirates trailed 8-0.
Soon the Pioneers were in unfamiliar territory, taking their biggest lead at 11-2 just over 5 minutes into the game as their defense collapsed on center Felix Friedt. Then Lasisi took advantage, hitting five of his first eight shots.
“Usually we get off to a better start,” said Lasisi, who had 21 points in the first half. “We weren’t making the shots we usually make, but luckily I could get a couple.”
With 9:47 left in the half, the scoreboard read: Lewis & Clark 14, Lasisi 13.
It took 11 minutes for a Pirate other than Lasisi to score, but Friedt’s layup put the Pirates ahead for good at 15-14 with 9 minutes left in the half.
Then it was the Pirates’ own defense that took over, forcing Lewis & Clark to go outside. The Pioneers hit just 2 of 13 long-range shots in the first half.
For the game, the Pioneers made just 6 of 29 shots from 3-point range and were 20 for 61 from the field.
“Defense was really where the game was won,” said coach Matt Logie, whose team won its 10th straight game, their longest streak of the season.
Lasisi could do no wrong in the first half – even when he did. With 2 minutes left in the half and the Pirates up 29-23, Lasisi was stripped of the ball by the Pioneers’ P.J. Taylor, who took the ball the other way.
With the bigger Lasisi on his heels – “I think I scared him a bit,” said Lasisi – Taylor laid the ball up too strongly and it rolled off the top of the rim back to Lasisi, who took the length of the floor for a layin and a foul.
Instead of a four-point lead, the Pirates led by nine. Whitworth led 35-23 at halftime, and dominated inside to offset the Pioneers’ Marcus Wells, who matched Lasisi with 27 points.
Lewis & Clark (14-12) closed the gap to nine points, 39-30, 2 minutes into the second half, but never got closer than 13 in the last 10 minutes of the game.
Whitworth was 29 for 65 from the field and 5 for 14 from long range.
In addition to his 16 points, Friedt grabbed 10 rebounds to give the Pirates a 46-34 advantage on the boards.
Whitworth has won 51 of its last 53 NWC games, including tournaments.