ATLANTA – If the Whitworth University women’s basketball team wakes up this morning in Atlanta, and finds its traveling clothes pressed, the Pirates know the culprits.
The Emory Eagles make a living using the press. Emory employed an effective full-court press much of Friday night and defeated the Whitworth Pirates, 72-65, in a first-round NCAA Division III game before about 500 boisterous fans at Woodruff Physical Education Center.
Whitworth’s season ends at 21-7. It was Whitworth’s first 20-win season since 2005. Emory (23-3), located in Atlanta, advances to play Huntingdon College (19-9) in tonight’s second-round game here.
The press played a key role in creating Whitworth’s 18 turnovers. The press also diminished the time the Pirates were in their nifty half-court offense.
The decisive part of the game was the beginning of the second half when Emory’s man press seemed to rattle the Pirates. Emory dropped in three 3-point shots in the first 1:37 and pulled out to a 46-36 lead – interrupted by only one Katara Belton-Sharp free throw – and never again trailed.
“The physicality of their press wouldn’t be seen in our area,” said Whitworth coach Helen Higgs, whose team won the Northwest Conference tournament. “I thought for the most part we handled it well. They had that good run (at the beginning of the second half).”
In no sense were the Pirates blown out of the gym. Whitworth’s inside-out, half-court offense was very effective against Emory, and never more so than in the first half, when Whitworth sprinted to a 31-24 lead on Kendra Lahue’s 3-pointer with 6:50 remaining.
Whitworth’s sharp passing and deft drives to the basket allowed it to lead often in the first half. Emory would sag when the Pirates went inside, leaving perimeter shooters open.
“We didn’t handle their offense as well as I would have liked,” said Emory coach Christy Thomaskutty. “And every time we made a mistake they made us pay.”
That was the story through much of the contest. In fact, a 3-point shot by Jamie Lyons with 2:23 remaining in the game cut the deficit to 66-56, but the Pirates couldn’t get it lower than 10 until the final minute of play.
“It’s a great season for us,” said Kayla Johnson, a junior guard who led Whitworth with 15 points on 6-of-8 field-goal shooting. “Our team is awesome. We won our conference tournament.”
Teammate junior forward Kendra Lahue finished with 12 points and junior guard Emily Travis tallied nine.
Guard Hannah Lilly led the Eagles with 17 points.
In the early game, Huntingdon cruised past Ferrum, 84-67.