When you play tough defense, building a lead pretty much takes care of itself.
The No. 4 Whitworth Pirates put together one of their best defensive efforts of the season and ran away from visiting Willamette 88-69 Friday night at the Fieldhouse, their 15th straight Northwest Conference men’s basketball victory.
The secret, coach Matt Logie explained, was in the preparation.
“I think the key for us was that we did a good job defending (Willamette’s) tendencies,” he said. “We defended the shots they like to take.
“I think the first half was a very good defensive effort; the second half we had some different lineups in there. Overall, I’m happy with the meat-and-potatoes of it. We can still do a better job recognizing things, though.”
Typical of most teams coming into the Fieldhouse, Willamette started off hot, hitting 9 of its first 11 shots. The lead changed hands a half-dozen times the first 15 minutes, and the game was tied at 27 with 5 minutes left in the half.
And just like that, the Bucs took off.
Leading 31-28 with 3:39 to go and just 3 seconds left on the shot clock, Colton McCargar found Tyler Farnsworth in midair with an inbounds pass for an easy layin and a five-point lead.
McCargar followed that pass seconds later with a 3-pointer from the corner.
By the time the horn sounded, the lead was 15.
Dustin McConnell scored 15 of his game-high 23 points in the second half. McCargar came off the Whitworth bench to score 17 points and freshman George Valle added 16 more as Whitworth shot 50 percent from the floor (32 of 64).
The comfortable win was a change from a week ago, when Whitworth needed come-from-behind efforts to beat Whitman in the Fieldhouse and to knock off George Fox on the road.
“I think the difference for us is that we’re healthy again,” Logie said. “We had a few minor injuries and a few guys sick there for a while.”
The win knocked Willamette (3-3, 6-9) out of a tie with George Fox for second.
The 15th straight win for the Bucs is the school’s longest streak since 2009-10.