With an 86-71 defeat, their third loss of the season to Whitworth, the Puget Sound men’s basketball team’s season came to a close. The Loggers finished 20-7, reaching the North West Conference championship for the third time in five years. With the win, Whitworth earned the conference’s automatic bid to the Division III national tournament.
Despite the loss, the Loggers still had an outside chance at making the tournament, however, the team found out on Monday that they were not the recipients of an at-large bid. Prior to the game, Head Coach Justin Lunt remained optimistic as to the team’s chances of obtaining a spot in the tournament, however this was not the case.
After earning the second seed in the NWC tournament by compiling an 11-5 conference record, the Loggers hosted Whitman on Thursday Feb. 23. In their final home game of the season, the men cruised to a 79-62 victory, despite both Anthony Gittens, second team all NWC, (Tacoma, Wash.) and Riggs Yarbro (Moses Lake, Wash.) fouling out with over seven minutes left in the contest. Without two of their top post players, the Loggers were forced to finish the game playing small ball.
Yarbro led the Loggers with 14 points in the contest, while Whitman’s David Michaels, the NWC player of the year, had a game high 28 points. The senior, who averaged 20 points per game on the year, was able to keep Whitman within reach, using an array of offensive moves before fouling out with 3:04 left. The UPS fan section paced Michaels off the court, chanting in unison to his steps, “they had some fun with it” Lunt said.
The Loggers were able to control the in game pace, switching up defenses in order to pressure Whitman’s outside shooters. The matchup zone they employed worked as the Missionaries were held to 26.6% shooting, hitting only four of 17 shots from beyond the arc. Lunt emphasized his team’s focus on stepping out on shooters and backing off non-shooters as a key to their defensive success.
Unfortunately, the same success was not able to carry over to the NWC championship game. Idris Lasisi led six Pirate players in double figures with 19 points. “He’s an explosive combo guard,” Lunt said.
After a three pointer by Kaleb Shelton-Johnson (Tacoma, Wash.), a first-team all conference selection, the Loggers held their final lead at 23-22. He finished with 14 points, while Rex Holmes (Chico, Calif.) poured in 19 off the bench to lead the team.
Despite their best efforts, Whitworth, the #10 team on d3hoops.com’s top 25, proved to be too much for the Loggers to handle. The Pirates shot over 55% on the game, helping to maintain their double digit lead for the entire second half.
While the Loggers were able to shut down Whitman’s outside shooters, the same could not be said on Saturday night. Whitworth converted 13 threes on only 28 attempts, evidence of the high number of what Lunt described as their triple threat players; guards that can shoot it from distance, get to the basket, or pass to set up teammates.
Experience certainly helped the Pirates, “They have players that have won [the NWC championship] the last couple of years. We have to be ready for a 40 minute fistfight” Lunt said prior to the game, unfortunately, Whitworth won the unanimous decision in 2012.
PHOTO COURTESY/DAVID PENDLETON