Back at the Fieldhouse after four games on the road, the Whitworth men’s basketball team looked right at home on Friday night.
Junior Liam Fitzgerald scored a career-high 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds for his third consecutive double-double, leading the Pirates to an 86-51 victory over George Fox in the first of back-to-back matchups between the two teams this weekend.
“Pretty impressive. He’s incredible,” junior guard Rowan Anderson said of Fitzgerald. “When he’s cutting, he’s easy to find. Great passer, catch and shoot, great rebounder, so yeah, that might be his best game yet. But he’s got more in him. We’ve all got another level.”
Freshmen Brad Lackey and Jake Holtz came off the bench to score 11 and 15 points, respectively, helping the Pirates finish out the 35-point victory, the team’s largest margin of the season.
The victory boosted Whitworth to 9-5 overall and 7-2 in the Northwest Conference. This was George Fox’s first official game and its only scheduled road trip outside of Oregon.
The Bruins were playing without Jackson Januik and Ryan Lacey, seniors this year who both started all 25 games last season when they averaged a combined 28.4 points per game.
Even without that duo, the Bruins stuck with the Pirates early and took a 25-23 lead midway through the first half. But junior Garrett Paxton got hot, sinking three 3-pointers and three free throws to spur a 14-2 Whitworth run to retake the lead and seize control of the game.
Paxton didn’t score again, but Whitworth settled in from there and carried a 42-29 lead into halftime.
“We found a little bit more rhythm to find some advantages,” Whitworth coach Damion Jablonski said. “Really as the whole game went on, it was about guys trusting each other and just finding the next pass and playing unselfishly. We had 21 assists, and the style of ball we played tonight is much more characteristic of how Whitworth teams have played over the last decade.”
The 21 assists were three more than the Pirates’ previous season high. Anderson had seven assists to go with six points and four rebounds.
Whitworth opened the second half with a 10-2 run, capped by a layup from Lackey that gave the Pirates their first 20-point lead of the game.
The Pirates’ bench scored 17 of its 35 points during the final 7:32, allowing Whitworth to rest its starters heading into Saturday night’s rematch. It is a similar setup to last weekend, when Whitworth beat Whitman by 21 points on Friday only to lose by two the next night.
“The first game’s the hard part,” Anderson said. “Now we have to come back tomorrow and be ready to do that again.”
Whitworth shot 48.5% from the field. George Fox’s 51 points were the fewest allowed by the Pirates this season.
Saturday’s game tips off at 5:30 p.m. at the Fieldhouse.
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