Their emotions didn’t go down any easier than the shots for the Whitworth Pirates on Saturday night.
Another wrenching loss in the Division III men’s basketball playoffs was a little easier to take because it was at home, but just barely.
“We can’t say enough about our crowd,” senior guard Wade Gebbers said after his last game. “Whitworth is the best place to play in the country, and we can’t thank them enough.”
But in the end, the raucous home crowd couldn’t put the ball in the hoop for Pirates, who lost 71-63 to Mary Hardin-Baylor in a Sweet 16 tournament game at Whitworth Fieldhouse.
After scoring a season-low 24 points in the first half, the Pirates rallied behind some strong defense, but never found their shooting touch – especially in the last 2 minutes, when they missed their last four shots.
For the game, Whitworth hit 24 of 57 shots, including only 9 of 26 in the first half.
“I thought some shots we typically make just didn’t go down tonight,” said Whitworth coach Matt Logie, whose team finished 26-4 but again just short of a spot in the quarterfinals. Whitworth is now 1-4 all-time in the Sweet 16 round.
Last year, the Pirates fell in overtime to No. 5 Virginia Wesleyan in faraway Whitewater, Wis. This time it came at home, against an unranked team they’d beaten here earlier in the season. That may have worked in favor of the visitors, who weren’t fazed when they fell behind 10-2 in the first 4 minutes.
“I thought coming here in November really helped us,” said Mary Hardin-Baylor coach Ken DeWeese, whose club lost that game 70-61. “But we knew what to expect,” DeWeese said.
And the Crusaders weren’t rattled late in the game, when Whitworth overcame a 12-point deficit to regain its first lead since the opening minutes. Senior forward Mack Larkin grabbed a missed 3-pointer by Colton McCargar, fed classmate Zach Payne for a layin that put Whitworth ahead 60-56 with 4:31 to play.
“We thought we had it under control,” Payne said after the game.
Recounted DeWeese, “I was up to my neck in worry.”
But guard James Allen – who led all scorers with 21 – hit two free throws at the 4-minute mark, and after a missed layup by Whitworth’s George Valle, UMHB’s Cory Meal’s hit a 3-pointer from the top to give the Crusaders a 61-60 lead.
The lead was three with 2:23 left, but Dustin McConnell’s 3-pointer forged the last tie of the game. Then Meals hit a short jumper with 1 second left on the shot clock, and on the Pirates’ next possession, Colton McCargar missed a layup. After UHMB’s Kitrick Bell missed the front end of a one-and-one, the Pirates’ Taylor Farnsworth did the same.
Given another chance at the line after a foul by Larkin, Bell come through with two free throws to put the visitors ahead 67-63 with 18 seconds left. After a missed 3 by McCargar, Allen made his last four free throws for the final margin.
“They did everything we asked of them,” Logie said of his players after the game. “Our defense was able to get us back in the game, but we weren’t able to close them out.”
While the Pirates are finished, Mary Hardin-Baylor (25-5) carries plenty of momentum into a quarterfinal game in Salem, Va., against St. Mary’s of Maryland.
It took only 3 minutes for freshman George Valle to ignite the crowd with a 3-pointer from the wing. Valle added another trey as the Pirates took an early 10-2 lead, but they missed their next five shots while UMHB found its shooting touch and suddenly led 12-10.
Meanwhile, the Pirates lost theirs. After hitting four of their first seven field-goal tries, Whitworth was 5 for 19 the rest of the half. McCargar’s 3-pointer gave the Pirates their last lead at 16-15, but the visitors began to beat the Pirates on the dribble.
UMHB hit 14 of 27 shots in the first half; Bell was perfect on four shots.
“They did the things they’ve always done well, pound the ball in and hit the offensive glass,” Logie said.
The Crusaders took their biggest lead of the game, 49-37 with 12:33 left, on two free throws by Meals.
McCargar led Whitworth in scoring for the third straight game, coming off of the bench for 20 points, while making 8 of 16 shots from the field. Valle had 17 points and McConnell 13, while Wade Gebbers dished a game-high eight assists in his final game. Farnsworth led all players with 11 rebounds.