WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Kyle Roach's three-pointer as time expired lifted visiting Whitworth University to a stunning 91-88 win over top-ranked Whitman College in the championship of the Northwest Conference men's basketball tournament on Saturday night in Whitman's Sherwood Center.
Roach, the 2018 NWC Player of the Year, hit his shot over a defender from about 27 feet to lift the 4th-ranked Pirates to 24-3 and hand the Bucs the NWC's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.
The win ended Whitworth's seven game losing streak to the Blues, who fell to 26-1. The Pirates rallied from an 11-point second half deficit to pull out the victory.
"I was so proud of the way our guys stayed poised and responded in the second half," said Whitworth head coach Matt Logie. "We talked about putting ourselves in position to make a play at the end and our guys did that."
The game featured 16 ties and 16 lead changes and along the way each team rallied from a significant deficit. Whitworth appeared ready to take a commanding lead into halftime when Roach and Ben College combined for three straight three-pointers to give the Bucs a 46-37 lead with two minutes to play in the first period. But Whitman rallied to tie the score 46-46 at halftime, sparked by a three-pointer from Joey Hewitt.
The Blues took their big lead early in the second half, using a 13-0 run to turn a 52-50 deficit into a 63-52 lead with just under 15 minutes to play. The Pirates responded with a 15-4 march to tie the game 67-67 on Garrett Hull's three-pointer with 11:33 to go.
Whitman looked ready to put the game away after Tim Howell's three-point play gave the Blues an 86-82 lead with three minutes to go. Whitman would score only two more points the rest of the way as Whitworth's defense made three big stops.
Isaiah Hernandez tied the game 88-88 with 30 seconds left and the Pirates forced Howell to travel with 2.3 seconds left. Roach took the inbounds near midcourt, took two dribbles and got his shot off just before the clock hit zero. It hit nothing but net.
"Kyle showed tonight why he was the league's player of the year," Logie said.
Roach finished with 23 points, while College led the Pirates with 24 points, making 6-10 from three-point range. Hull had his second double-double in as many NWC tournament games with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Whitworth shot 50% from the field, including 50% (13-26) from three-point range.
Hernandez had seven points and three assists off the bench.
"Isaiah provided us some really important minutes tonight," Logie said.
Howell, the 2017 NWC Player of the Year and a three-time first team all-conference honoree, led Whitman with 21 points. Hewitt added 18, while Austin Butler finished with 18 points, nine assists and four blocks. Whitman also shot 50% from the floor in the game.
Whitworth won its 13th Northwest Conference tournament title in its 16th appearance. Tonight's game was the Pirates' 15th straight in the conference final.
The NCAA Division III tournament field will be announced at 9:30 am on Monday morning. The Pirates will make their 12th consecutive appearance, 13th overall.
"We look forward to continuing to play," Logie said. "We will be ready, no matter what happens. We are excited to play anyone, anywhere at any time."