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

Whitworth closes out Whitman in Northwest Conference Tournament championship 81-75

By Ethan Myers The Spokesman-Review

Despite making its 20th consecutive appearance in the Northwest Conference Tournament championship, the Whitworth men’s basketball team came out on Saturday night like the program had something to prove.

And prove it they did, as the Pirates prevailed over Whitman for a third consecutive Northwest Conference title.

Although Whitworth was without its leading scorer and Northwest Conference Player of the Year Jojo Anderson, the Pirates relied on their seniors and depth en route to a 81-75 win over the Blues in the Whitworth Fieldhouse, securing an automatic bid in the NCAA Division III Tournament.

“It never gets old – three times in a row,” Whitworth senior forward Jake Holtz said after cutting down the net. “The home court was a great environment. I couldn’t ask for a better crowd out here. It definitely helped us gain some momentum down the stretch. It was fun.”

Fresh off a 80-59 victory over Puget Sound in the semifinals, Whitworth (19-8) looked to topple Whitman (20-7) for a third time this season after two impressive wins over the Blues earlier in the year.

Holtz paced the Pirates for most of the evening, finishing with 32 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. Pirates senior guard Sullivan Menard had 21 points and hit f4 of 9 3-point attempts, with several coming in big moments.

Much like the two matchups between the Pirates and Blues earlier this season, the teams went back and forth in a competitive first half, which Whitworth led 45-38 at halftime.

But just the previous games, Whitworth made key plays on both sides of the ball down the stretch to secure a victory.

The Pirates repeatedly went to Holtz, who has been a reliable presence all season, whenever Whitman pulled it close. The senior guard used his strength and finishing ability to push Whitworth to the finish line.

“We’re dangerous. We’re deep. We can shoot the ball and get into the paint.

“We got great game plans and great coaching,” Holtz said. “It’s hard to scout against us.”

After the game, the senior guard said he intends to return next year and use his remaining season of eligibility.

Senior guard Jai Deshpande, a first-team All-NWC selection, led the way for Whitman with 17 points. Senior forward Jander Cline added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Blues.

Whitworth coach Damion Jablonski gave credit to his bench for stepping up.

“It was two really good teams that leave it all out on the floor,” Jablonski said. “From my perspective, we ultimately got a lot of contributions from our bench players … along with great senior leadership.”

Transfer junior guard Garrett Long, who took on starting duties with the injuries to Anderson and sophomore guard Diego Jaques, played a season-high 34 minutes, collecting 12 points with one assist and no turnovers in nearly 35 minutes.

Jablonski said the status of Anderson, who missed his third consecutive game due to a shoulder injury, is uncertain moving forward.

On Friday, Menard was named to the All-NWC first team along with Anderson. Holtz was voted to the second team.

The Division III Tournament draw will be announced on Monday.

“One thing that I know about this team is they’re feeling a lot of joy and confidence and not a lot of weight on their shoulders,” Jablonski said. “I anticipate that they’re going to go out and play with a lot of confidence and freedom.

“That’s the best place you can be in the tournament.”