WALLA WALLA – Two seconds remaining. Inbounding from your defensive baseline. No timeout. Just give the ball to Kyle Roach.
Roach took a pass near midcourt, dribbled down the left side and drilled a 30-foot jumper as time expired to give Whitworth the Northwest Conference Tournament men’s basketball championship with a 91-88 victory over top-ranked and undefeated Whitman on Saturday night.
The winning play came after Whitman’s Tim Howell was called for traveling with 2 seconds left on the clock and the score tied at 88.
“I was so proud of the way our guys stayed poised and responded in the second half,” Whitworth coach Matt Logie said. “We talked about putting ourselves in position to make a play at the end and our guys did that.”
The win gives fourth-ranked Whitworth (24-3) an automatic berth to the Division III national tournament after defeating top-ranked Whitman (26-1) for the first time in three matchups this season and eight games overall in the series.
The tournament field will be announced Monday morning. The Pirates will be making their 12th consecutive appearance and 13th overall.
“We look forward to continuing to play,” Logie said. “We will be ready, no matter what happens. We are excited to play anyone, anywhere at any time.”
Ben College led Whitworth with 24 points and Roach scored 23.
“Kyle showed tonight why he was the league’s player of the year,” Logie said.
Roach’s winning basket capped a Pirates rally after trailing 86-82 with 3:01 remaining. Roach began the rally with two free throws, Garrett Hull hit a 12-foot jumper off the glass to tie it at 86 and Isaiah Hernandez made a driving layup with 25 seconds remaining to tie the game again at 88.
Whitman’s only points in the final three minutes came on a turnaround, step-back 17-footer by Joey Hewitt with 56 seconds remaining.
Howell, last season’s NWC Player of the Year and a three-time first team all-conference honoree, led Whitman with 21 points. Hewitt added 18, while Austin Butler finished with 18 points, nine assists and four blocks.
The game featured 16 ties and 16 lead changes, and along the way each team rallied from a significant deficit. Whitworth appeared ready to take a commanding lead into halftime when Roach and College combined for three straight 3-pointers, giving the Pirates a 46-37 lead with two minutes to play in the first half. Whitman rallied to tie the score at 46 at halftime, sparked by a 3-pointer from Hewitt.
The Blues took their big lead early in the second half, using a 13-0 run to turn a 52-50 deficit into a 63-52 lead with just under 15 minutes to play. The Pirates responded with a 15-4 march to tie the game at 67 on Hull’s 3-pointer with 11:33 to go.
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