With five starters returning from their NCAA Division III Tournament team a year ago, Whitworth players expect to perform the way they did Friday.
The Pirates minimized turnovers. Seven of them scored at least nine points. And they were better than Willamette in just about every way, winning their home and Northwest Conference opener 86-69 at the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
“That’s how we imagined it,” said senior Kevin Crosno, who scored nine points off the bench. “We have a lot of returners, a lot people that can score, so whoever’s feeling that, we give it to him, or if not we move the ball and find the open man.”
Senior Kyle Roach, the reigning NWC Most Valuable Player, led the way with 17 points and seven of the team’s 16 assists, a season best for the Pirates. He led a charge after halftime that stretched Whitworth’s lead safely into the teens, an advantage it maintained the rest of the way.
But the victory might have come at a cost. Midway through the second half, senior guard Garrett Hull went to the floor with a noncontact injury, holding his right knee. He turned over on all fours, slammed his hands to the floor and was helped to the trainers’ room.
He returned to the far end of the bench with 2 minutes, 10 seconds remaining, the game well in hand for the Pirates (4-1 overall). His right knee was heavily bound and iced. He walked through the handshake line after the game, visibly distraught.
“Garrett stepped up last year when Jordan Lester went down in such a big a way, and many nights he was our heart and soul, our grit, that’s just what he’s made of,” coach Matt Logie said. “So that bodes well for his comeback, but certainly you hate to see it happen to a kid like him.”
Logie said Hull would see doctors this weekend and would have a better sense of his injury in a few days.
Hull scored 11 points and had three rebounds in 11 minutes off the bench.
Statistically, the Pirates outplayed the Bearcats (0-5) in just about every category, including rebounds (39 to 32), turnovers (seven to the Bearcats’ 12) and field-goal shooting (51.6 to 43.3 percent).
Led by Roach’s 17, the Pirates got scoring from 10 players. Lester, a junior, finished with 12 points and six rebounds and senior Jared Christy grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.
“I thought tonight was the blueprint for the way we want to play,” Logie said. “We took good care of the basketball, we played aggressively but under control, we shared the ball. It’s really fun when everyone’s playing together like that.”
The Pirates overcame two strong performances from the Bearcats. Senior Jordan Jenkins scored 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting, mostly in the paint. Sophomore Alec Barba sank 5 of 8 3-point attempts for 18 points.
However, none of their teammates made more than four shots, and the Bearcats couldn’t compensate at the free-throw line, where they were 9 of 14.
Whitworth finished 14 of 20 at the line and sank 8 of 16 3-point attempts.
“That’s the way we’re designed,” Logie said. “You gotta guard all five guys, and when they’re sharing the ball, and stepping in with confidence and making shots it becomes really hard to guard them.”
Whitworth plays again Saturday at home against NWC foe Pacific (3-3, 0-1), which lost at Whitman on Friday 128-83.
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