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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Confident Whitworth men return home to open Northwest Conference play

Whitworth guard Ben College  drives the lane with the basketball against Wisconsin-Stout guard Zach Dahl  during a  Dec. 29, 2017, game at Whitworth Fieldhouse. (James Snook / For The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

After trips to Oregon and Texas the past two weekends to play teams from four conferences, men’s basketball coach Matt Logie is happy to be back at the Whitworth Fieldhouse.

But beyond the usual galvanizing such tournament appearances afford teams, Logie said the varied competition served as a great ramp-up for Northwest Conference play, which starts this weekend for the 14th-ranked Pirates (3-1).

“I thought the first two weeks have been a great experience for us,” Logie said. “We’ve played a variety of styles and been on the road playing in different regions of the country that are very competitive. So it’s given us a really good snapshot of where we’re at.”

The Pirates will be at home Friday against Willamette, the first of back-to-back conference games on a five-game homestand that keeps Whitworth in Spokane until late December.

The Pirates’ only loss (88-79) came last Saturday against the Texas-Dallas (5-1) of the American Southwest Conference. That dropped them in the poll from their preseason No. 6 ranking.

Earlier in that San Antonio tournament – the Leslie Robinson Classic – the Pirates beat 0-5 Trinity (Texas) 76-65.

The weekend before, at the GFU Bruin Classic in Newberg, Oregon, Whitworth defeated St. Olaf (1-4), then ranked No. 23, and Whittier (1-3) by margins of 20 and 14 points, respectively.

“Overall, we’ve played well,” Logie said. “Our defense has certainly improved and I think that’s a byproduct of our experience and being able to pick up where we left off. And we’ve had to get reacquainted and adjusted to having certain guys in the lineup.”

One of those guys is Jordan Lester, who played just nine games last season before a knee injury ended his year. The junior is fourth on the team in minutes (26.8 per game) and third in scoring (11.5).

Lester has started all four games, bumping senior Garrett Hull back to the bench. But Hull has still played nearly 18 minutes per game and is part of the rotation Logie has settled into.

“We know it’s a long year. Guys are gonna have to step up in different ways throughout the journey,” Logie said. “But overall, it’s hard to find that continuity with more than nine guys, and we’ve got a pretty solid handle on those.”

Junior Ben College leads the Pirates in scoring (21.5 points per game). Senior Kyle Roach, the reigning conference MVP, has averaged 17.3 points per contest.

Willamette (0-4) is led by senior forward Jordan Jenkins, who averages 15.3 points per game.

The Pirates host Pacific on Saturday. Pacific has a new coach this year in Justin Lunt, who spent the previous 12 seasons at Puget Sound.

Pacific is 3-2 under Lunt, who has brought his up-tempo, 3-point-shooting style to the Boxers. They are averaging 118 points per game – while also allowing 121 – and have attempted 194 3s in five games, seventh most in the nation.

Whitworth didn’t lose to Willamette or Pacific last year. It went 14-2 in conference play, the two losses coming against Whitman, which has opened this season 4-1 and is ranked No. 6.

The Pirates have three nonconference home games in December before going to Las Vegas for the Classic on Dec. 29 and 30. After that, they will resume NWC play.