An early tight game turned into a statement game for the Whitworth Pirates and a freshman wing from Australia, who came off the bench to score a season-high 29 points in an 87-58 win over Willamette.
With the win, the Pirates (14-4, 8-1) solidified their position atop the Northwest Conference standings to start the second half of league play.
“It’s going to be a grind each and every night,” Pirates coach Matt Logie said after the game.
The records made the teams appear overmatched, but somebody forgot to tell the Willamette Bearcats (3-15, 1-7). They came out hissing and clawed their way to an early lead.
But behind the hot-shooting Christian Jurlina, the Pirates kept stealing back the lead.
The 6-foot-5 freshman from Sydney scored every way you can imagine. He fought inside for running scoops and later stepped outside to hit two 3-pointers en route to a 20-point first half.
He stayed hot in the second half and finished with 29, five points better than the previous team high set by Kenny Love early in the year.
With leading sharp-shooters Colton McCargar and Dustin McConnell struggling to find points – they had two and four points, respectively – Jurlina surpassed his previous career high of 15 points well before the break.
“I was just feeling it,” Jurlina said. “My teammates kept getting me good looks and my confidence was very high.”
Logie said he likes to bring Jurlina, who can guard multiple positions, off the bench for an offensive spark.
“He’s just starting to get comfortable in our system,” Logie said. “He was able to show his entire arsenal of offensive weapons tonight. When he plays at that level, we are a hard team to beat.”
The Pirates also got 11 points from reserve guard Kionte Brown, a freshman from Shadle Park. At one point in the second half, Brown calmly dribbled as the shot clock ticked away. With a defender in his face, Brown then launched and hit a 3 at the buzzer.
The Pirates’ two leading scorers, McConnell and McCargar, struggled to find points early. McConnell started driving inside and ended up with eight points and McCargar found his touch late to score seven.
McConnell did have one highlight-reel play as he held the ball to end the first half and nailed a last-second jumper to make it 36-28.
Whitworth also got nine tough points from 6-8 forward Taylor Farnsworth. The Bearcats were led by junior forward Alex Brown, who scored 21 points, mostly from jumpers.
Whitworth clamped down the defense in the second half, but Logie said it didn’t come from any halftime adjustments.
“I think one of the things good teams do is figure out what another team is trying to exploit,” he said. “I thought our guys adjusted well tonight.”
Whitworth turns right around and plays tonight at 6 against Pacific (Ore.) (11-7, 4-5).
“We have a very good Pacific team coming to town,” Logie said. “It’s important that we defend our home court.”