By Christian Bond, PLU Sports Information Student Writer
SPOKANE – A back-and-forth first half gave way to Whitworth late as the third-ranked Pirates ended Pacific Lutheran's quest for its first-ever Northwest Conference Men's Basketball Tournament championship Saturday night, defeating the Lutes 75-62.
The first half featured three tie scores and 10 lead changes before Whitworth scored the final six points to take a 44-36 lead into halftime. The Lutes led the Northwest Conference in 3-point shooting during the regular season, but PLU connected on only 4 of 16 shot attempts from long-range Saturday. After the Lutes shot an even 50 percent in the first half (16-of-32), the Whitworth defense limited PLU to 33.3 percent shooting after the break (9-of-27).
"They are very good defensively," PLU head coach Steve Dickerson said. "We missed a lot of shots. We did not shoot as well as we are capable of. We had six empty possessions that we did to ourselves."
Bryce Miller led the Lutes with his ninth double-double of the season, scoring 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting while grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing out a pair of assists. Brandon Lester scored 12 points. Jared Christy added 10 points and eight rebounds.
PLU turned the ball over 12 times during the course of the game, only two more than Whitworth's 10 turnovers. However, Whitworth took advantage of those opportunities, as the Pirates outscored PLU 17-3 following a turnover. The teams finished with an even 34 rebounds each, but Whitworth made four more baskets than PLU did on the same number of attempts (29-of-59) and finished 8-of-21 from long-range (38.1 percent) and 9-of-10 at the free throw line.
"Our kids played hard," Dickerson said. "If we play that same game against other teams in our league, we might come out on top. They have three first-team all-conference guys, and they play like it. They are a very good team."
Kenny Love scored a game-high 23 points for Whitworth, while three other players reached 10 for the Pirates. Whitworth claimed its 10th consecutive NWC Tournament championship and clinched the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Div. III Tournament. PLU finished the 2015-16 season with a 17-10 record, the team's best since the 1997-98 season. The Lutes conclude the year third in the regular season standings and as the conference tournament runner-up for only the second time in team history.
"I think we had a great year," Dickerson said. "There are certain things that we needed to get done to beat a team as good as they are, and we just missed it."