On a night when fans ended the evening chanting “triple digits,” it would be easy to congratulate the Whitworth offense for a 31-point blowout victory.
Pirates basketball coach Jim Hayford knew where the credit should be directed.
Hayford started unheralded Clay Gebbers for just the second time this season, and it was the sophomore’s inspired defense that propelled Whitworth to a comfortable 101-70 victory Tuesday night in a Northwest Conference showdown at the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
“It all started with us having to shut down one of the best players in our conference, Chris Faidley,” Hayford said of the Whitman senior guard. “That started with Clay Gebbers, who did a great job of just shadowing him all night.”
Averaging 22.9 points per game, Faidley was held to four points in the second half and finished with 14 points on 3-for-13 shooting. Gebbers and senior Tim Sellereit consistently denied Faidley open looks and repelled the guard’s dribble penetration.
“I can trust the guys behind me, and that lets me get out farther (defensively),” Gebbers said. “I was exhausted. Every play they look to go to him, so you’re constantly tense. He’s a good player.”
Hayford said his staff examined the impact Gebbers has had on the team when he’s been on the floor, using a concept that stat aficionados refer to as “plus” and “minus.” A player is credited with a “plus” number if his team outscored an opponent in the time that player is on the floor.
Hayford said Gebbers’ plus number exceeds that of any Whitworth player.
“He’s a very solid defensive player and a very good shooter,” Hayford said. “I get after him because I think he needs to shoot more.”
Meanwhile, Faidley’s woes weren’t unique for Whitman, which struggled in its halfcourt sets. The Missionaries made only 9 of 29 attempts from 3-point range and also committed 23 turnovers.
Whitworth led by as many as 20 points (32-12) in the first half and never trailed. The Pirates made 16 of 30 shots before halftime – 7 for 13 beyond the arc – and led 43-27 at the break. Equally impressive was Whitworth’s work on the defensive end, where the Pirates held Whitman to an 8-for-28 effort from the floor through the first 20 minutes.
Ross Nakamura and David Riley led six Pirates (13-3, 5-2 NWC) in double figures with 25 and 23 points, respectively.
Brandon Shaw paced Whitman (6-10, 2-5) with 15 points.
Whitman 61, Whitworth 54: Whitworth’s 14-point lead in the first half evaporated, and the Pirates’ hope of securing sole possession of second place in the NWC vanished soon thereafter.
The Pirates (10-6, 4-3) led 23-9 with 8 minutes left in the first half, but their offense sputtered and allowed Whitman to pull within 31-27 at intermission.
The Missionaries (13-3, 5-2) held Whitworth to 26 percent shooting (7 for 27) in the final 20 minutes to spur the comeback.
Cassie Pilkinton’s 16 points paced the Pirates. Jenele Peterson scored 14 points for Whitman, which moved within a game and a half of NWC leader George Fox in the conference standings.
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