In a season that has seen games scheduled, postponed and canceled on the fly, the Whitworth men’s basketball team found itself with a very familiar opponent again Saturday at the Fieldhouse.
But just like the previous three times on the court, the Pirates beat the Puget Sound Loggers, 79-70, closing out their season series with a 4-0 sweep.
“It’s been weird,” said junior Garrett Paxton. “I don’t even know who we play against next weekend.”
That would be 4-0 Pacific Lutheran, the team Whitworth was supposed to host two weeks ago. But those games were postponed – and not yet rescheduled – due to a positive COVID-19 test in the Pirates’ program.
Still without four regular seniors who are expected back at practice this week, the Pirates once again plugged in the same starters from Friday night. Again they thrived.
Freshman Brad Lackey (8-of-12 shooting) led the Pirates in scoring for the second straight night, this time with 21 points and a career-high 11 assists for his first double-double at Whitworth.
For the second straight night, sophomore Jerry Twenge, a Mt. Spokane High graduate, set a new career high in points, this time with 17 on 6-of-12 shooting.
Paxton – the lone regular starter – had 19, the third of the Pirates’ scoring trio that carried them past the pesky Loggers (1-7 overall, 1-7 Northwest Conference), who just would not go away.
The Loggers led much of the first half before an 11-0 run for Whitworth wrestled away the lead for good, 27-20.
But the Pirates (6-3, 4-0) couldn’t shake them in the way they were able to in back-to-back, double-digit victories in Tacoma three weeks ago. Puget Sound used a pair of 8-0 runs to reel Whitworth back in, and though they never again fell behind, the Pirates’ largest lead was only 12.
Whitworth matched a season-high with 31 3-point attempts (making 12), and it was in those stretches the Pirates weren’t making them that the Loggers made their runs.
“They stepped back in a zone and sometimes that makes it a make-or-miss game,” Whitworth coach Damion Jablonski said. “I thought we got some good shots, and we weren’t shooting poorly, but maybe we weren’t making them play as much defense.”
That was where the trio of Lackey, Paxton and Twenge stepped up. They combined to make nine 3-pointers – three each – and all three made a pair of free throws down the stretch to keep the Loggers at bay.
Whitworth also turned the ball over a season-low eight times, and they turned 16 Loggers turnovers into 25 points. That compensated for a 39-30 UPS advantage in rebounds.
Now the Pirates enter a week of practice with a more experienced second string who played many more minutes than normal, in the absence of Rowan Anderson, JT McDermott, Liam Fitzgerald and Miguel Lopez, the four players who before this weekend had played more minutes than everyone else on the roster.
“It’ll be fun to have them back,” Paxton said. “We miss them in practice, miss their energy. They did an awesome job cheering us on on the bench. It’s gonna be a fun competition this week.”
That could make for some lineup adjustments – or not – as the Pirates prepare to head on the road the next two weekends, first at Pacific Lutheran and then at Whitman for the final games on their schedule as it currently stands.
“I think everything’s day by day,” Jablonski said. “These guys have proven themselves with the lights on and proven it to themselves, so I would imagine our confidence goes much deeper down our bench.”
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