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Isaiah Hernandez’s last-second score helps Whitworth hold off LeTourneau, advance in NCAA Division III Tournament

UPDATED: Fri., March 6, 2020

By Lary Bump For The Spokesman-Review

DALLAS – Isaiah Hernandez tried to get to the rim in the closing seconds.

He made it into the paint for the winning basket with 1.5 seconds to play as Whitworth edged LeTourneau 88-86 in a first-round NCAA Division III tournament game Friday at the University of Texas at Dallas.

The Pirates never trailed in the game, and had an 11-point lead (80-69) with just 1:23 to play when Hernandez made the second of two free throws.

From that point, LeTourneau’s pressing defense set up Nate West for 17 of his game-high 51 points in the final 1:15, while the Pirates were 6 of 10 from the line.

“I know Adam West is Batman,” Whitworth head coach Damion Jablonski said. “Nate West might be a superhero as well. That kid is an incredible ballplayer, and it took everything we could just to survive his talent down the stretch.”

West’s bank shot tied the score at 86 with 7.7 seconds left.

Whitworth had a timeout left. Jablonski called on Hernandez, even though he had four fouls.

“Coach told me at the timeout just to be aggressive and try and get to the rim as fast as I can,” Hernandez said. “I was lucky enough to knock down the shot. Just happy to make that shot for the team.”

“I thought we could get him going to his strong hand,” Jablonski said of Hernandez. “He’s a quick player, and he had a chance to have them on their heels. I was concerned with the number of fouls that had been called. I wanted to make sure that he was under control so we didn’t get a charge at the end.

“He did a great job of avoiding contact.”

Whitworth has advanced to NCAA play 13 times in the past 14 years, but hadn’t won a tournament game during senior Ben College’s first three seasons.

“Advancing to the second round isn’t something I’ve been able to do in my four years,” College said. “We’ve worked so hard to put ourselves in this position. It’s just a lot of joy to be able to keep our season alive and keep playing.

The Pirates (22-6) will play host Texas-Dallas (22-6) Saturday at 5:30 p.m. for a berth in the round of 16. Texas-Dallas held off Centenary (Louisiana) 83-81 in the second game.

College led the Pirates with 33 points.

Hernandez scored 20 in 18 minutes, and sophomore Liam Fitzgerald tied his career high with 16 points and added nine rebounds, five assists and four blocks.

Whitworth led by as many as 15 points in the first half, when Garrett Hull put back an offensive rebound, making it 34-19.

LeTourneau (23-6) rallied with a 12-4 run, cutting Whitworth’s halftime lead to 38-31. Ten Pirates turnovers kept the game close.

With 7:56 left in the first half, College made his 93rd 3-pointer, breaking a tie with Jon Young (2004-05) for the Whitworth season record. By game’s end, College had 94.

He led the Pirates with 15 first-half points, and Fitzgerald scored 10.

With the 6-foot-6 Fitzgerald altering some of the 5-10 West’s shots, the YellowJackets’ star made just 4 of 12 field-goal attempts and scored 12 points in the first half. He missed his first seven 3-point shots, but hit five of his last 10 in the final 10 minutes, scoring 39 of the YellowJackets’ 55 second-half points.

“I give our players a lot of credit,” Jablonski said, “for sticking with our game plan throughout and being able to build the lead that we did have to withstand (West’s) heroics. We really did not have answers for him. We were just lucky that the clock ran out.”

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