It is a rare night on a basketball court when senior Ben College can’t find his rhythm.
Yet that was the case Friday, when the Northwest Conference’s leading scorer was largely ineffective, scored just seven points and spent 11 minutes on the Whitworth bench.
But that left all the more room for his teammates – Sam Lees most prominently – to excel in a game Whitworth needed to win.
Lees scored a career-high 27 points, and three nights after losing to their biggest rival the Pirates picked up a 98-95 victory over their rising rival Linfield at the Fieldhouse.
“If anything it was more important than the game Tuesday after losing it,” said the senior Lees, referring to the Pirates’ 89-80 loss to Whitman. “This was a must win for us.”
With the Pirates leading by a point with 10.2 seconds remaining, senior Garrett Hull stole an inbound pass and called timeout with 6 seconds remaining. College caught the ensuing inbound, got fouled and hit both free throws to give Whitworth a 98-95 lead with 4.5 seconds left.
Dempsey Roggenbuck, Linfield’s leading scorer, advanced the length of the court but drove to the basket instead of settling for a potential tying 3-point attempt. The junior’s runner bounced off the rim and the backboard.
The victory improved the 20th-ranked Pirates to 13-4 overall and 7-1 in conference play. Linfield (12-4, 6-1) plays at Whitman (12-4, 7-0) on Saturday night.
Seven Linfield players scored at least 10 points against the Pirates. The Wildcats shot 56.3% from the field, better than any Whitworth opponent this season.
Linfield led by as many as nine in a game that featured 18 ties and 12 lead changes.
The Wildcats led 95-94 with 16 seconds remaining after a layup by freshman Carson Bonine, who scored a career-high 17 points. But junior Isaiah Hernandez was fouled on the next trip down the court, hit both free throws and gave the Pirates a 96-95 lead.
College, who hadn’t scored fewer than 10 points since scoring nine against Pacific, 364 days and 26 games ago, scored his first point before the game started: Linfield was given an administrative foul for submitting its lineup too late.
College sank that free throw but didn’t score again until a basket with 30 seconds left in the first half. His last four points all came late from the free-throw line, where he finished 5 of 5.
In his stead, though, the Pirates found other ways to score.
Hull added 16 on 6-of-10 shooting; sophomores Garrett Paxton and Liam Fitzgerald each had 12 off the bench; and Hernandez hit 5 of 9 shots for 13 points.
And there was Lees, who hit 9 of 19 shots, including 3 of 4 3-point attempts, more makes from that distance than he had all season coming in.
The Pirates sank 11 of 21 3-point attempts, their best percentage (52.4) of the season.
“Different than Tuesday night, we worked to get some better shots for us,” Pirates coach Damion Jablonski said. “I thought it paid off. We’re a good shooting team when we’re taking the right shots that come within our offense.”
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