In a slugfest between evenly matched teams, the Whitworth Pirates defended their home court and cut down the nets after winning yet another Northwest Conference championship.
The Whitman Missionaries (16-8, 11-4) threw last year’s conference player of the year at the middle of the Whitworth defense, but Ben Eisenhardt’s 30 points weren’t enough as the Pirates won 79-76.
“That was a battle,” coach Matt Logie said. “That’s what you get with two teams playing their third game in five days. I was proud of the way my guys responded.”
The win marks the fifth straight conference championship for Whitworth (20-4, 14-1), which is a streak that has never been reached in conference history. It’s also the Pirates’ ninth year in a row with at least 20 victories.
“I’m really proud of these seniors,” Logie said, referring to Dustin McConnell, Colton McCargar and Robby Douglas. “They had to help us grow early in the year and build the younger players up. That’s what great leaders do.”
The first half lived up to its billing as the top two teams in the Northwest Conference traded shots en route to a 40-36 Whitworth lead at halftime.
The Missionaries hit 5 of 9 3-point attempts to keep pace with the spirited play of senior guards McConnell and McCarga,r who both had 10 points for Whitworth at the half. McConnell scored 12 second-half points to lead the team with 22.
Eisenhardt, a 6-foot-8 post player, found room inside and scored a game-high 30 points and also hauled down six rebounds.
“He’s a terrific player,” Logie said of Eisenhardt. “He really put them on his back. He’s a tough guy to defend.”
McCargar and freshman wing Christian Jurlina both finished with 14 points, and Jurlina added seven rebounds.
The Pirates, ranked No. 13 in the D3hoops.com top 25, led most of the game, but could not put the Missionaries away.
Whitworth’s largest advantage was only seven points and Whitman fought its way back to take the lead at 62-61 with 7:45 to play on a 3-pointer by Clay Callahan.
But Whitworth regained the lead for good on a layup from Taylor Farnsworth, although the game wasn’t decided until the final seconds. Whitworth has one final game on Friday at Lewis & Clark before the conference tournament begins on Feb. 27
“This is one of those games you had to just gut out,” Logie said as his players cut down the nets. “It certainly wasn’t pretty.