March 2, 2012 in Sports

Whitworth men hope to stand tall in Texas

By The Spokesman-Review
Pirates’ Division III history

Here are the results of Whitworth’s previous appearances in the NCAA Division III national tournament.

• In 2011 Whitworth defeated Chapman 77-63 in the second round. The Pirates went to Wooster, Ohio, and defeated Marietta 93-77 in the round of 16 to reach their first Elite Eight. Wooster beat Whitworth 76-66 to reach the Division III Final Four for the third time in that school’s history.

• In 2010 Whitworth defeated Chapman 77-56 in the second round before the Pirates fell to Eastern Mennonite 74-71 in the round of 16 at Guilford, N.C.

• In 2009 the Pirates had to win at third-ranked Puget Sound in the NWC tournament final just to make the NCAA field, then defeated Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the first round before losing back at Puget Sound in Round 2.

• In 2008 Whitworth defeated Occidental in the second round of the tournament before falling to Wheaton in the round of 16 at Hope, Mich.

• In 2007 the Bucs went to St. Louis and defeated DePauw in overtime in the first round before falling by two points to host Washington University in the second round.

• In 2003 the Pirates lost at eventual championship-game participant Gustavus Adolphus in the first round.

The Whitworth men’s basketball team has been there before, in every way you can imagine.

Emotionally, geographically and athletically, the Pirates will be right at home in the heart of Texas today for the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament.

Seventh-ranked Whitworth (24-3) will face McMurry today at 3:30 in Belton, Texas. The winner will advance to a second-round game Saturday against either Trinity or host Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Whitworth is the only team in the pod not from Texas, but the Pirates know how to win away from the Whitworth Fieldhouse, going 12-1 this season.

The Pirates, playing in their sixth straight tournament, know what to expect, besides temperatures in the 80s. Their first big road trip was down the highway in San Antonio, at the DIII Invitational in December.

“It was one of our first trips of the year,” junior guard Wade Gebbers recalled. “We know what it’s like to go on a trip like that, and it will help us get mentally prepared.”

The Pirates’ mental preparation will instead focus on the surprising War Hawks, who were near elimination for nearly a month.

McMurry, which has won five in a row and seven of its past eight, didn’t clinch a postseason berth until the next-to-last game of the regular season, then won the American Southwest Conference tournament.

The War Hawks (20-8) combine an up-tempo offense with the biggest rebounding margin in all of Division III – a staggering plus-12.2 per game.

“We know we have to put up our best effort on the glass and play hard,” said Whitworth post Felix Friedt, who averages 16 points and 8.8 rebounds. The 6-foot-8 Friedt will square off under the boards against Steven Jones, who packs 270 pounds into a 6-foot-3 frame and averages 17.4 points and nine boards.

War Hawks forward Dominick Walker averages eight points and nine rebounds.

McMurry’s third-leading scorer is guard Jason Isler, son of first-year coach J.D. Isler, who will take the War Hawks up to Division II next season.

The War Hawks have already played at the Mary Hardin-Baylor gym, defeating the Crusaders 77-69 in the second round. They clinched the ASC’s automatic bid with an 86-81 overtime win over Hardin-Simmons.

“McMurry is playing really well right now,” Whitworth coach Matt Logie said. “They’ve hit their stride, winning the conference tournament and defeating some really good teams.”

The War Hawks, with four seniors in the starting lineup, average 88 points a game and like to force a fast pace.

“We’re expecting high-tempo game with a lot of pressure,” Gebbers said, “so we’ve got to go down there and keep our poise and be ready to handle that pressure.”

But Gebbers notes that the Pirates see that often in the Northwest Conference, “so it’s not going to be anything foreign to us.”

In the nightcap at 5:30, 10th-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor (25-2) will face Trinity (20-8).

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