By Christian Bond, PLU Sports Information Student Writer
PARKLAND – An 11-point streak by ninth-ranked Whitman midway through the second half helped the Missionaries pull away from the upset-minded Pacific Lutheran men's basketball team, as the Lutes' bid for a regular-season sweep of the Missionaries fell short 82-72 Friday night.
Tim Howell showed the ability that has made him the Northwest Conference's leading scorer with a 29-point performance to lead all scorers. Bryce Miller did his best to keep up with 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting, and Brandon Lester became the 25th PLU men's basketball player to reach 1,000 career points on a layup in the second half. Lester finished the night with 16 points.
PLU shot 39.1 percent for the game (27-of-69), while Whitman shot 47.7 percent (31-of-65), including 57.6 percent in the first half (19-of-33). The Missionaries' size showed throughout, allowing them to outscore the Lutes 40-24 in the paint. PLU was attempting to clinch its first regular season sweep of Whitman since 2006-07 after upsetting the Missionaries 79-74 in Walla Walla last month.
"They just beat us to the rim," PLU head coach Steve Dickerson said. "We could not stop Howell. I almost had to go out there to see if I could guard him. You are never going to stop them completely, anyway. They are the top scoring team in the conference. If you aren't going stop them, you need to make big shots, which we did the first time. We just couldn't get over the hump."
PLU held its own on the boards, as Whitman grabbed 43 rebounds compared to the Lutes' 42. The Lutes also moved the ball well, racking up 18 assists on 27 made baskets. While PLU made 11 3-pointers and shot 39.3 percent from deep, the Lutes' overall shooting and performance at the free throw line (7-of-12 for 58.3 percent) were both below their season averages.
Along with Miller's and Lester's performances, Erik Swartout had 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting, draining 4-of-5 from 3-point range. Dylan Foreman added 10 points while making three 3-pointers, while Jared Christy added 11 rebounds. Freshman guard Tyson Birrer scored seven points in 10 minutes off the bench.
"Erik played a great game," Dickerson said. "Bryce played well. We rebounded even with them, and we got more shots up then they did. They made 14 foul shots, and we made seven. That's what it was. It's not like we lost the game; they beat us. They were a better team tonight."
Saturday the Lutes will square off against third-ranked Whitworth. The game will wrap up the 2015-16 regular season, and the Lutes will honor seniors Seth Anderson, Shane Jacob and Miller prior to pregame warmups. Whitworth clinched at least a share of the regular season NWC title with a win over Puget Sound Friday.
"I expect to come back, play hard and we will we see what we can do," Dickerson said of the matchup against the Pirates. "This was a good lesson for them, because we have had all these close games, and this is what happens when you get in the tournament. We just have to play."