After Whitworth’s roller coaster of a week last week, the Pirates were aching for a breather.
Whitworth started last week with a tough one-point loss to No. 1 Whitman then finished with a narrow three-point win over George Fox three days later.
The Pirates (21-3, 13-2 Northwest Conference) finally slowed down and followed five starters in double digits to an 86-75 win over the Linfield Wildcats (16-7, 10-5) on Friday night.
“It was more of a slower-pace game,” guard Garrett Hull said. “It’s less possessions, but it’s good to get a slower game like this.”
Linfield’s slower pace might have been a nice break from last week’s chaos, but it presented Whitworth with some problems in the first half. The Pirates followed Linfield’s lead and slowed on defense. They failed to grab as many opportunities from the field to keep Linfield from eventually taking the lead on Dempsey Roggenbuck’s layup midway through the half.
For the next 2 minutes, the Pirates traded the lead with Linfield four more times before pulling ahead on Jared Christy’s 3-pointer for a 27-26 lead.
“(The Wildcats) really make teams work to get shots deeper in the shot clock. If you want to speed the game up, you’ve got to get stops on defense and get out and run before their defense can set,” Whitworth coach Matt Logie said. “We were able to do that better in the second half than in the first.”
The Pirates turned the pace almost immediately in the second half by speeding up their decisions on offense and finding uncontested opportunities from 3-point range. The Pirates hit a string of 3-pointers and Christy added a three-point play in a 5-minute span to give them a 17-point lead with 9 minutes left.
The Pirates kept up the pace on the opposite end of the court, forcing the Wildcats to shoot from 3-point range. Linfield hit just 4 of 17 3-point attempts and guard Riley Bruil, who leads the conference in 3-point percentage, finished 2 for 5 from beyond the arc.
Christy and center Ben Bishop took control inside and held Linfield’s starting big men to just 13 points, four in the first half.
The Pirates shot a season-high 60 percent from the field and outrebounded Linfield 36-27. Whitworth went 10 for 21 from 3-point range and dished out 16 assists.
Christy led the Pirates with 19 points on 7-for-7 shooting from the field, including three 3-pointers. Bishop helped at the post with 15 points and matched Christy with a game-high seven rebounds.
Ben College and Hull followed with 17 points apiece. Whitworth’s leading scorer, Kyle Roach, finished with 13 points, six assists and a game-high two blocks.
The win gave Whitworth a home-court advantage in next week’s NWC semifinal.
The Pirates are back in the Fieldhouse on Saturday to host Willamette in the regular-season finale at 6 p.m.