Despite a midnight start, the Whitworth offense was in primetime form during a 95-73 victory over visiting La Verne in the NCAA Division III men’s basketball opener for both schools on Wednesday morning in the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
Jordan Lester scored 26 points in his Whitworth debut and Ben College added 18 points for the Pirates, who earned their fifth straight season-opening victory.
Several hundred students braved the 12:01 a.m. start and made up the majority of the crowd of 670, providing good energy throughout the contest.
The first eight minutes of the first half included four lead changes and a pair of ties as the teams established a blistering early pace. Victor Costa’s basket for La Verne tied the game 22-all, the final tie of the opening period as Whitworth used a quick 7-0 run to grab a lead the Bucs would never relinquish. College scored the first five points of that run. The Pirates eventually stretched the lead to 52-35 on Ben Bishop’s layup before the Leopards cut the margin to 56-43 at halftime on Connor Head’s three-pointer at the buzzer. Head scored 13 first-half points for La Verne while Lester had 15 and College 14 for the Bucs.
The Leopards trimmed the margin to 65-55 early in the second half on another Costa basket. Whitworth responded with a 19-1 run, going up 84-56 on a three-pointer by freshman Reed Brown with 10:29 to play. The Pirates held La Verne without a basket for more than six minutes during the big run. Reed’s basket was Whitworth’s largest lead of the game.
While the offense shined overall, the Whitworth defense that had the biggest second half impact. After ULV shot 56.3 percent in the opening half, the Bucs held the Leopards to only 34.4 percent from the field in the second period. LaVerne also committed 19 turnovers.
“I was really pleased with our intensity and effort,” said Whitworth head coach Matt Logie. “The guys made things happen by forcing turnovers and grabbing offensive rebounds. Obviously there is a lot to clean up, but it was a fun environment and a great way to kick off the year.”
Including Lester and College, five Pirates reached double figures in scoring. Garrett Hull came off of the bench for 13 points, Kyle Roach scored 11 and Jared Christy finished with 10. Whitworth finished with a 47-38 advantage in rebounding. Roach had seven while Lester and Christy grabbed six each. Christy dished five of the Pirates’ 18 assists. Whitworth shot 46.2 percent from the field, but struggled from beyond the arc (8-33).
Head finished with 21 points and nine rebounds for La Verne. Cole Currie added 13 points, Alec Vucinich scored 11 and Costa ended up with 10.
Whitworth will host Gallaudet University on Friday night in the Pirates’ next game.