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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Whitworth men lose NCAA D-III Tournament opener to St. John Fisher 74-59

Whitworth guard Michael Smith, who scored a team-high 21 points, shoots a jumper against St. John Fisher in Friday’s first round of the NCAA Division III Tournament.  (Courtesy of Whitworth Athletics)
By Luke Schwartz For The Spokesman-Review

SWARTHMORE, Penn. – For a moment, it appeared the Whitworth Pirates might pull off a huge comeback Friday in their NCAA Division III Tournament men’s basketball opener.

Trailing St. John Fisher by 19 points early in the second half, the Pirates’ offense began to chip away at the deficit. Whitworth closed within five points with 4 minutes, 24 seconds left, but the Pirates didn’t score for the next 3 minutes, allowing the Cardinals to pull away for a 75-59 victory.

St. John Fisher (22-7) will meet host Swarthmore on Saturday for a spot in the 16-team sectionals.

Whitworth struggled in the first half. The Pirates drew close a few times, but trailed 30-17 with less than 4 minutes left in the half and 34-23 at halftime.

By halftime, Whitworth was shooting 2 for 16 from the 3-point line and 29% from the field.

Whitworth senior guard Michael Smith scored 11 of his team-high 21 points in the first half. The Pirates first-team, All-NWC forward JT McDermott was held to four points and three rebounds in the first half, shooting 2 of 4 from the floor.

St. John Fisher entered halftime with no turnovers.

The Cardinals started the second half with an 8-0 run to go up 42-23. Pirates head coach Damion Jablonski called a timeout and Whitworth made big adjustments.

Pirates senior guard Rowan Anderson hit a pair of 3-pointers over the next 3½ minutes to help cut the deficit to 10 points. McDermott added seven second-half points to aid the rally.

A steal from Whitworth’s Jake Holtz that led to a Jerry Twenge 3-pointer cut the deficit to 59-51 with less than 7 minutes left.

McDermott made 1 of 2 free throws with 4:24 left and the Pirates trailed just 62-57.

The Cardinals responded with Daniel Cook’s jumper and a 3-pointer by Jack Foley the next possession to push the lead back to double digits with 2:19 left.

Smith added seven rebounds to his 21 points. McDermott finished with 11 points and five rebounds. Anderson and Holtz scored nine points apiece, and senior Twenge added five points.

“We got a lot of good looks, honestly, but we just could not put the ball in the hole,” Jablonski said. “For us to win the Northwest Conference and be here, I’m just really proud of them.”

Fifth-year senior McDermott was holding back tears when asked about what this team means to him.

“I mean, it has been like family,” he said.

To McDermott’s right was his fellow fifth-year senior Anderson who said three words stick out to him for what he has learned playing basketball at Whitworth and will carry with him in the next stage of his life.

“Trust, love and commitment,” McDermott said. “That held me through these five years and it was ingrained in us and made us successful and I will take that into the next phase of my life.”

Even though Whitworth did not come away with the victory, the Pirates made their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance and raised another Northwest Conference tournament trophy into the Whitworth Fieldhouse.