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Whitworth overcomes slow start to thwart PLU and win 10th straight NWC tourney title

No. 3 Whitworth fell behind early but responded with big plays en route to a 75-62 win over Pacific Lutheran on Saturday night at Country Homes to secure the Pirates’ 10th consecutive Northwest Conference tournament championship.

The Lutes started hot and held a 13-5 lead at the first media timeout. The teams then shared three ties and traded the lead 10 times before Whitworth’s offensive firepower finally broke through.

“I thought (the Lutes) came out and played with great energy,” Whitworth coach Matt Logie said. “They put pressure on us to score, and our guys responded.”

The Pirates (26-1) now wait for selection Monday to find out whether they play at home or get sent back east to play in the NCAA Division III Tournament.

“We’d love to have it back here next week,” Logie said.

The Pirates won a record seventh-straight Northwest Conference regular-season title, but they faced a buzz saw of a Lutes team that was fresh off an upset of No. 9 Whitman on Thursday.

After Pacific Lutheran (17-10) raced to the early lead, Logie told his troops to focus on making stops.

Logie “just told us that we had to step up on defense,” said freshman guard Kyle Roach, who scored 10 points and was one of three Pirates with seven rebounds. “They were hot early. Eventually, things started falling our way.”

Bryce Miller only missed one shot the first half and led the Lutes with 12 points. The Lutes hit half their shots and held a 19-14 advantage in rebounds before the break. Miller finished the game with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

“It was a really exciting game,” said the Pirates’ Kenny Love, who led all scorers with 23 points. Pacific Lutheran “came out with a lot of intensity. We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game.”

After the teams traded the lead 10 times, it was a big play by Love that set the Pirates on their path.

Just moments after Christian Jurlina converted a rare four-point play after he was fouled on a made 3, Love stole the ball and raced down the court. He dunked the ball over a defender to the delight of the crowd and gave Whitworth the lead for good at 31-30.

“It’s those big energy plays that really fuel this team,” said senior George Valle, who started his 115th straight game as a Pirate. “All of a sudden, it spurs those runs and allows us to get a lead.”

After the Love dunk, the Pirates outscored the Lutes 13-6 and went to the break with a 44-36 lead.

Love opened the second half with a 3-pointer and Pacific Lutheran never got closer than nine points in the second half.

“We came out a little slow; we can’t keep doing that,” said Drew Sears, who led the league in blocks this season. “They like their back cuts. It’s tough to react to it. But we shut them down in the second half.”

Valle, Sears and Roach all scored 10 points. Jurlina had nine points and seven rebounds and Matt Staudacher had seven points.

The Pirates, who shot 49 percent for the game, stood at center court as the crowd cheered and teammates cut down the nets.

“It’s my first time winning a championship in anything,” Roach said as he looked on. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Sears said he hopes the selection committee keeps the Pirates at home for the first round.

“That would be really nice to have everybody in the fieldhouse and to have this energy,” he said. “But who knows. We’ve got a good group. We hope to keep it going.”

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