March 6, 2009

Courtesy Whitworth Athletics

SPOKANE, Wash. - Ross Nakamura scored a game-high 22 points and Whitworth used a 16-4 run to start second half to defeat visiting Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 81-63 in the opening round of the NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament on Thursday night in the Whitworth Fieldhouse. Ross Nakamura

The 21st-ranked Pirates (23-5) advance to face 7th-ranked, and fellow Northwest Conference member, Puget Sound on Saturday in a second round game in Tacoma, Washington.

It was the Whitworth defense that turned the tide. After allowing the visitors to shoot 60% from the field in the first half, the Pirates held CMS to only 26% (7-27) in the second half.

After the Stags (21-7) withstood a 9-4 start when the Pirates hit three straight three-pointers, they used their motion offense to efficiently work to a first half lead. Ben Bergsma hit a three to give the Stags their first lead at 16-15, then they extended the advantage to 25-21 on a three by Austin Soldner. Another three by Michael Bagby opened the largest CMS lead of the half at 31-23 with 6:14 to play. Whitworth answered with inside baskets by David Riley and Nate Montgomery to stem the momentum. After forcing consecutive turnovers the Pirates were able to tie the game at 37-37 on a pair of free throws by Tim Sellereit. Calvin Jurich hit a layin at the halftime buzzer to give the Pirates a 42-40 lead at the break. CMS hit 60% in the first half (15 of 25), while Whitworth was nearly as hot at 56.7% (17 of 30). Soldner had 15 and Bagby had 11 in the first half for the Stags, while Montgomery had 10 and Nakamura nine for the Bucs.

But the second half started with Whitworth tightening the defense, forcing CMS to miss ten of its first 11 shots from the floor. When Sellereit drained a three from the wing the Pirates had used a 16-4 run to take a 58-44 lead with just under 12 minutes to play. Then Nakamura extended the lead to 69-52 with a three pointer from the right side with 7:53 to go. CMS got within 13 points on three occasions over the final seven minutes, the final coming on a short jumper by Chris Blees with 2:43 left. But the Pirates answered each time. The Bucs were 8 for 8 from the free throw line down the stretch and never allowed the Stags to make a final run. Nate Montgomery

In addition to his 22 points offensively, Nakamura held First Team All-SCIAC guard Jason Toney to only four points on 2 of 10 shooting from the field. Soldner led CMS with 19 points, while Bagby finished with 13. Chris Blees, the 2009 SCIAC Player of the Year, finished with 10 points and six rebounds. The Stags finished with a 42.3% team shooting percentage (22-52). After making 6 of 11 three-pointers in the first half, CMS only make 1 of 9 from beyond the arc in the second period.

Five Pirates reached double figures in scoring. Nakamura was 9 of 12 from the field for his 22 points. Montgomery finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season. Sellereit totaled 13 points off of the bench by making all 10 of his free throw tries. Riley had 12 points and Bo Gregg totaled 10 for the Bucs, who shot 52% from the field (29-56) in the game, 8 of 20 (40%) from beyond the arc.

The Pirates, making their fourth NCAA Division III tournament appearance, are now 3-3 all-time in the tournament. Whitworth will be playing UPS (24-3) for the fourth time this season. The Loggers won both regular season meetings before Whitworth took the NWC tournament championship game last Saturday.