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Headed to Texas: Whitworth men’s basketball will play Trinity on Friday in first-round NCAA Division III Tournament game

Feb. 28, 2022 Updated Mon., Feb. 28, 2022 at 9:35 p.m.

Miguel Lopez cuts down the net Saturday after Whitworth’s victory over Whitman sealed the Northwest Conference title.  (Caleb Flegel/Whjtworth athletics)
Miguel Lopez cuts down the net Saturday after Whitworth’s victory over Whitman sealed the Northwest Conference title. (Caleb Flegel/Whjtworth athletics)
By Justin Reed The Spokesman-Review

The Whitworth men’s basketball team is ready to make the most of its lost postseason opportunities.

After two years of COVID-19 interruptions – the 2020 NCAA Division III Tournament was scrapped following the second round of play and the 2021 tournament wasn’t held at all – the Pirates will finally get a taste of the postseason Friday when they face Trinity University in Belton, Texas.

“This is what you dream of as a basketball player growing up,” senior Garrett Paxton said. “I’m really excited to compete, have fun and enjoy the moment with my teammates.

The Pirates (22-4) will face the Tigers (22-5) at the Mayborn Campus Center at 1 p.m. in a first-round matchup.

When Whitworth flashed on the projector screen broadcasting the DIII selection show Monday morning in the basement of the WALT building, there was a quick outburst of celebration, but then a quiet hunger shushed the team.

“The last year was really tough for everyone,” head coach Damion Jablonski said. “This is what the guys have been wanting to play for, so to be able to have the opportunity again feels really great.”

This will be the seventh matchup between the two teams, with Whitworth winning all six of the previous games. The most recent was a 96-73 Pirates’ home win on Nov. 9, 2019.

The Pirates played in Texas in the 2020 DIII Tournament. Whitworth beat Letourneau 88-86, then cruised past Texas-Dallas 73-66 before its Sweet 16 matchup with Swarthmore was called off.

The other previous trip to Texas was in 2014, when the Pirates beat Trinity 75-73 in the first round before falling to Texas-Dallas 78-77 on an overtime buzzer-beater.

Jablonski said he thought Whitworth might play in Los Angeles this time around, but is fine heading back to Texas.

The third-year head coach is familiar with all three other teams in the Pirates’ pod – Mary Hardin-Baylor and Chapman being the potential second-round matchups. He said all three teams are strong overall and that he is just excited for his guys to get their chance in the championship.

The Pirates (83.8 points per game) and Tigers (84.1) both boast high-octane offenses as each is in the top 30 in the country in scoring . Each team also ranks in the top 40 in assists per game.

Trinity is led by junior Enzo Sechi, who played the most minutes of any Tiger this season and scores a team-leading 15 points per game.

Whitworth flies out on Wednesday, and Jablonski said the Pirates will be treating this experience like any other road trip.

“There’s no difference, the only difference is that if you lose, you go home,” Jablonski said.

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