WHITEWATER, Wis. – In every way, the Whitworth Pirates were fit to be tied Friday night.
As Whitworth’s Dustin McConnell was driving the lane for the go-ahead lay-in with 3 seconds left in overtime, officials called a jump ball that gave Virginia Wesleyan a controversial 74-71 win over the Pirates in the third round of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament.
McConnell drove strongly down the court after he stole the ball at midcourt with 10 seconds left, and was ascending toward the basket when officials ruled that he was tied up from behind by Virginia Wesleyan’s Chris Teasley, giving possession to the Marlins.
Both benches erupted, Whitworth’s in astonishment. Seconds later, after two free throws at the other end, the Pirates were eliminated after a 26-4 season. The Pirates have played in six straight DIII tournaments, half of them ending in the Sweet 16 round.
After the stunning loss, “I just told the players how proud I was of them,” said Matt Logie, who finished his first year as head coach.
“They trusted us from Day One, and they trusted each other, and although this stings, I wouldn’t want to go through that experience with anyone else.”
Logie wouldn’t discuss the final call, which happened in front of the Pirates bench.
“Everybody saw the possession,” Logie said. “It was one of those tough endings. Obviously we would have liked to score.”
The Marlins saw it differently.
“It was as legit as it gets,” said Virginia Wesleyan coach Dave Macedo, who was standing at the far end of the court when the whistle blew.
“Donald (Vaughn) stopped him (McConnell) and I grabbed it,” said Teasley, who seconds earlier scored the last of his game-high 27 points on a short floater to give the Marlins the lead for good.
“He made a great play,” said Whitworth guard Wade Gebbers. “He came off the screen got it in the key and made a tough floater.”
Teasley hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first half, then hit several floaters in the second half off screens from Vaughn. Teasley made 10 of 18 shots from the field.
“We knew they had a talented, athletic team coming in,” said Gebbers.“ We had a game plan and tried to execute it, and though we did a really good job, they hit just a couple of good shots down the stretch and that’s what they needed.”
And while sixth-ranked Virginia Wesleyan (27-3) moves on to face host Wisconsin-Whitewater in tonight’s quarterfinal game, the Pirates, red-eyed and barely able to speak afterward, knew that it probably shouldn’t have come down to that.
Twice in the final minute of regulation, the seventh-ranked Pirates were poised to take a two-possession lead. McConnell’s nifty drive down the lane put the Pirates ahead 61-58 with 1:44 remaining, and, after a miss by the Marlins, Friedt was fouled while backing into Vaughn.
But Friedt, who made his previous 11 free throws, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with one minute left.
Twenty seconds later, still up by two, the Pirates’ Idris Lasisi faced another 1-and-1, and his first shot fell well short.
At the other end, Teasley was fouled by Friedt, making both free throws to tie the game at 61. Whitworth was unable to get off a shot before the end of regulation.
It was a tough end to a strong second half for the Pirates, who trailed 35-30 at halftime, “but we knew we had more in us than that,” said Friedt, who led the Pirates with 25 points and 10 rebounds. “I knew I had to make some shots.”
Whitworth opened the second half on a 10-2 run with Friedt scoring six of those points. Friedt scored 18 of his points after halftime in the final game of his career. He added 10 rebounds for his 15th double-double of the season. Senior Jack Loofburrow finished with 13 points off of the bench, while Gebbers scored 12 and Lasisi 11.
The Pirates led for most of a tight second half, taking their biggest lead on Loofburrow’s 3-pointer with 9:51 to play.
Early in the game, the Marlins forced the action inside, but Friedt struggled against Vaughn, who played taller at both ends than his 6-foot-5 frame.
Friedt missed six of his first seven shots, while Vaughn hit 5 of 11 from the field and had 12 points by intermission along with three boards.
“I just tried to work early so he couldn’t get his positioning on the block,” said Vaughn, who finished with 20 points and six rebounds. “I had to work early.”