SPOKANE, Wash.—Down by 14 at the half, the Puget Sound men's basketball team embarked on a furious second-half rally against Whitworth in the Northwest Conference Tournament finals, but the Loggers fell just short, losing by a score of 71-68 at Whitworth Fieldhouse in Spokane, Wash.
The host Pirates entered halftime ahead by 14 at 40-26, but the Loggers did not quit. They outscored Whitworth 12-4 in the first 4:32 of the second half to come within six at 44-38. Nick Holden capped off that run by netting two free throws after a furious six-second stretch that saw three missed Logger layups between Holden and Rex Nelson, but three offense rebounds between the two as well. A foul by the Pirates Christian Jurlina put Holden on the line for his two freebies. Whitworth extended their lead back out to nine over the next three and a half minutes, but two straight Erin Barber three-pointers pulled the Loggers within three, the closest they had been to Whitworth since the 7:06 mark in the first half.
Whitworth scored five of the next seven points to go up by six, but six straight Logger points eliminated the difference and evened up the score for just the second time in the game at 58-all. Christian Jurlina and Dustin McConnell combined to score the next four for Whitman, but Dan Cheledinas nailed a three-pointer to pull within one. After Colton McCargar responded with a three-ball for Whitman, the Loggers scored the next seven points to take a three-point lead. James Osorio gave the Loggers the lead with a three-ball with 3:14 remaining in regulation, and he added a jumper 38 seconds later to give the Loggers a three-point advantage, their largest of the game.
After taking the lead, however, the Loggers couldn't manage another bucket. They missed three three-pointers and two jumpers in the final two minutes while Whitworth ended the game with a 6-0 run to escape with a 71-68 victory and a berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
"It was a tough loss but I am extremely proud of this group," said Puget Sound head coach Justin Lunt. "They never quit and they kept battling every possession. The players did an amazing job representing our university tonight."
As the result would suggest, both teams saw similar shooting percentages. Whitworth held the slight 44.4% to 42.9% advantage from field goal range, but the Loggers shot just a bit better from three-point range (35.3% to 33.3%) and from the free throw line (82.4% to 80.0%). Puget Sound out-rebounded the Pirates 37 to 31, and they also led in points off turnovers, second chance points, and points in the paint as well.
McCargar led all players with 25 points while Barber paced the Loggers with 15. Three other Loggers scored in double-digits as Holden added 14 and both Osorio and Nelson scored 11. Also, Cheledinas was just off the mark after netting nine points in his final collegiate game. AJ Maw tied a career high with eight assists, and Holden tallied his fifth double-double of the season after hauling in 11 rebounds.
Whitworth won the NWC Tournament for the eighth straight time. Puget Sound and Whitworth have met for four of those eight victories, once in Tacoma, Wash., and three times in Spokane.
The Loggers' (15-12, 10-6 NWC) season now comes to a close with the tournament loss. They will look to get over the hump in the 2014-15 season but will have to replace four seniors as Cheledinas, Maw, Nelson, and Philip Thomas all graduate at the end of the spring semester.