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Whitworth faces shorter, aggressive Marlins

Felix Friedt of Whitworth, right, muscling past Puget Sound's Anthony Gittens, says the Pirates needs to shore up a few things in Friday's Sweet 16 game against Virginia Wesleyan. (Christopher Anderson)
Felix Friedt of Whitworth, right, muscling past Puget Sound's Anthony Gittens, says the Pirates needs to shore up a few things in Friday's Sweet 16 game against Virginia Wesleyan. (Christopher Anderson)

WHITEWATER, Wis. – Don’t get him wrong: Felix Friedt is OK with scoring 35 points a game, if that’s what it takes.

But the Whitworth center is just as comfortable drawing a crowd, then kicking the ball outside to help the Pirates continue their run in the Division III men’s basketball tournament.

After all, says teammate Idris Lasisi, “We have a lot of weapons.”

Whitworth used them all last week in Texas, earning a pair of victories to set up Friday’s 3:30 p.m. sectional game against sixth-ranked Virginia Wesleyan. Both teams are 26-3.

If they win, the seventh-ranked Pirates would face Wheaton (Ill.) or host Wisconsin-Whitewater on Saturday for a chance at the Division III Final Four next week in Salem, Va.

After a career-high 35 in the first round last week against McMurry, Friedt was double-teamed down low in the second round against Trinity. “If that’s the case, then my role changes,” says Friedt. “I accept that and that makes me more of a facilitator and a rebounder.” He scored 12 points, but Lasisi poured in 22.

But on Saturday, after building a 21-point lead early in the second half, the Pirates went cold, their first drought in the postseason and their first crisis.

That meant facilitating of a different sort.

“The players weren’t saying anything, but you could see that people were getting nervous,” Friedt says of the Trinity game. “As a senior, it’s your job to calm the waters.”

Calm was finally restored Saturday when fellow senior Jack Loofburrow hit two 3-pointers in the final six minutes as the seventh-ranked Pirates pulled away to a 64-53 win.

However, both games exposed weaknesses “that could cost us big” against Virginia Wesleyan, Friedt believes.

The Pirates gave up 22 offensive boards and turned the ball over 21 times against McMurry, and struggled from long range against Trinity.

“That has to stop right now,” said Friedt.

Virginia Wesleyan doesn’t have a starter taller than 6-foot-5, but “they’re very athletic and play very hard,” says Whitworth coach Matt Logie. “They get out in transition and put a lot of pressure on your defense.”

The Marlins, playing in their eighth straight DIII Tournament, earned a first-round bye that some thought should have been awarded to Whitworth. Now they will meet in the middle of the country.

“They have a great tradition,” says Logie “We’re excited to put our program up against them.”

Despite their small lineup, the Marlins are outrebounding opponents by an average of four a game and are holding opponents to 29 percent shooting from beyond the three-point arc.

The Marlins have four players scoring double figures, led by sophomore guard D.J. Woodmore (16.2 ppg) and forward Chris Astorga (14.9 ppg).

Post Donald Vaughn averages 13.8 points and seven rebounds despite being only 6-foot-5.

“Big picture-wise, they play a similar style to what we faced against McMurry, but maybe just another level in their overall skill and their ability to shoot the basketball,” Logie says.

Lasisi compares Virginia Wesleyan’s defense to McMurry’s, implying another scorefest for Friedt.

“We have a really good balance inside and outside,” Lasisi says. “Teams that try to take away our outside shooting and we’ll feed it to Felix, it’s really hard to guard us.”

In the second semifinal, 24th-ranked Wheaton (23-6) faces the host Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks (25-4), who defeated Whitworth 76-61 back in December in the DIII Invitational in San Antonio. Whitewater forward Chris Davis averages 22 points a game, and scored exactly that many in the win over the Pirates.

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