Last season, with a basketball game on the line, the Whitworth Pirates were probably giving the basketball to Ben College.
Or Isaiah Hernandez. Or Sam Lees. Or maybe Jordan Lester.
But with College and Lees graduated, and with Hernandez and Lester nursing injuries, junior Rowan Anderson had the ball at the end of the game on Wednesday.
He wasn’t able to get a potential game-tying shot away in the closing seconds, and Whitworth lost its season opener 77-75 to the College of Idaho at the Fieldhouse.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys stepping up,” junior guard Garrett Paxton said, “a lot of guys who have been on the team for a while.”
The Pirates (0-1) started three juniors – Anderson, Paxton, and JT McDermott – who were either making their first or second career starts.
Even the team’s lone senior starter, Miguel Lopez, just transferred in this season.
Only Liam Fitzgerald entered with significant starting experience – 17 last year as a sophomore – and by the end of the game, the Pirates appeared to miss their veterans.
Yet the Pirates came out shooting well, much better than their NAIA foes, the Coyotes (3-6). Whitworth made 18 of 33 shots in the first half, including 5 of 12 3-pointers, and it built a lead as big as 22 right before halftime.
At that point, the Coyotes had 15 turnovers and were shooting 9 of 26 from the floor. Fitzgerald had nine points at the break, Anderson had eight, and senior Tanner Fogle, playing his first significant minutes of his career, had 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting.
“Talk about a senior leader, a guy who hasn’t seen much playing time,” second-year Pirates coach Damion Jablonski said. “He’s shooting the ball with great confidence now.”
But the second half was another story.
Crucially, the Pirates had to sit senior Reed Brown just 4 minutes into the second half, when the forward picked up his second, third and fourth fouls in a span of 4 seconds. He played just under 11 minutes of the game, fouled out at the 7:32 mark and scored five points.
“That was big,” Fitzgerald said. “(Brown)’s a big-time leader, very vocal with us on the court, so not having that voice talking to you in the back of the defense was pretty big.”
Gradually, the Coyotes got closer, cutting Whitworth’s lead to single digits with 9:35 left. They erased it completely on a Derek Wadsworth 3-pointer, 5 minutes later, for a 68-67 lead.
With the Coyotes ahead 75-73 and 17 seconds remaining, Fitzgerald sank two free throws to tie the game.
But with 5 seconds left, Charles Elzie III drove to the basket, drew a foul and made his two free throws. On the ensuing inbound, Anderson couldn’t quite get a handle on the ball to release a quality shot.
Anderson finished with 10 points and a career-high nine assists. Fitzgerald led the Pirates with 14 points. McDermott added 12.
It was the Pirates’ first game of record since the second round of the Division III tournament in March and first home game since Feb. 29.
“This season is (still) in its infancy right now, because we haven’t been playing 5-on-5 except for the five days before Christmas,” Jablonski said. “I think even if you did a regular three weeks of practice before games, you’d probably have more things worked out than we do at this point.”
The teams meet again at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Fieldhouse. The game will be streamed online.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.