Whitworth has been catching a few breaks this month from the NCAA, which is far better than catching another plane flight.
That’s something the rest of Division III is beginning to appreciate, including tonight’s second-round opponent. The Emory Eagles are based in Atlanta, an airline hub that’s a direct flight to seemingly anywhere – except Spokane.
Whether it’s a payback for past NCAA slights or the reward for another superb season, the sixth-ranked Pirates are ready for another game at rowdy Whitworth Fieldhouse.
And should Whitworth win, the Pirates have a chance to host again on March 16 against the winner of the all-Texas matchup between Concordia and Mary Hardin-Baylor.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” said Whitworth post Zach Payne. “I think we have the best environment in Division III, so it’s a blessing.”
Last weekend against Redlands, the Pirates (25-3) trailed by 10 points with 13 minutes to play, then went on a 19-2 run that fed the crowd – and vice versa.
“I thought it was huge for us in the second half,” Whitworth coach Matt Logie said. “When we made our run to get back into the game, the crowd just jumped right on board.
“In some respects they’re waiting for something to happen, and fortunately we were able to come through for them.”
Last week, the breakthrough started on defense. After Redlands shot 48 percent from the field (and 50 percent from 3-point range) in the first half, the Bulldogs were held to 39 percent and 23 percent, respectively, in the second.
“When we’ve been at our best, it’s been when our defense has been in tune,” said Logie, whose club faces an up-tempo Emory team tonight. The unranked Eagles (20-6) earned an at-large bid after sharing the University Athletic Association regular-season title with Washington and Rochester, then took their sixth straight game with a 77-56 home win over Randolph College.
Emory averages 82 points a game and forces almost 17 turnovers a game. Junior forward Jake Davis, a two-time first-team all-UAA selection, averages 18 points and 5.3 rebounds; senior guard Alex Greven, another first-teamer, averages 16.5 points and is hitting 42 percent of his 3-point shots. Four different Eagles average at least four rebounds a game, including 6.9 by 6-foot-6 senior forward Michael Friedberg.
“To come out of the UAA as a conference champion is a tremendous accomplishment, so we know they’re a national-caliber team,” Logie said. “They shoot the ball well and they score in transition. They mirror a lot of things we’ve been successful with.”
Perhaps the biggest adjustment for both teams is the new tournament format, which gives everyone almost a week to regroup for the next game. For the Pirates’ Colton McCargar, that meant more time spent “learning from our mistakes,” including a mid-game lapse against Redlands that saw the visitors turned a six-point first half deficit into a 10-point lead.
“We need to get some stops,” McCargar said.
Logie says the longer break “gives you the opportunity to prepare and fully understand your opponent. One of the strengths of our team is our basketball IQ and experience, and that has helped us.”
Payne says he likes the format because it “gives you a whole week to rest.”
But not for Emory, which had a plane to catch.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students, youth and seniors. Gates will open at 5:30 p.m. No passes will be accepted … This is the seventh straight season the Pirates have won their first game in the NCAA Tournament. … Whitworth ranks third in Division III in field-goal percentage at 51.1 percent.