SPOKANE, Wash. – Eleventh-ranked University of St. Thomas held off a determined rally by 14th-ranked Whitworth University in a non-conference men's basketball game on Saturday night, winning 70-65 in the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
The Tommies (2-0) led by as many as 14 points on several occasions, but withstood the challenge when the Pirates (0-1) cut the deficit to three points two times in the final minute of play.
"Obviously St. Thomas is a very talented and experienced team and they showed that tonight," said Whitworth head coach Matt Logie. "I was proud of the way our guys responded and fought back."
Whitworth led once in the game, 3-2, after Gebbers hit the first of his four three-pointers. But the Tommies answered with a 9-3 run to go up 11-6 on a jumper by Nance. After the Pirates got within 15-12 on a layup by Zach Payne, UST went on to open a 25-15 advantage on a Tengwall's layup to grab its first double-digit lead of the game. When Connor Nord scored inside for a 32-18 lead, the Tommies had the first of what would be three 14-point margins in the first half. Whitworth cut the lead to 40-29 at the break.
Marcus Alipate hit a three top open the second half for St. Thomas and they were back up by 14 points (43-29), but that would be the final time the margin was that large. Colton McCargar's three-point play cut Whitworth's deficit to 43-36 four minutes later. McConnell pulled up for a three-pointer to cut the margin to 54-49 with just under nine minutes to play to get the Pirates as close as they had been since the opening minutes. But the Tommies responded with seven straight points, capped by two DeBerg free throws, to stretch the margin back to 61-49 with less than five minutes left.
Just when it appeared St. Thomas had taken final control, Whitworth went on one more run. George Valle completed a three-point play to get the Bucs within 63-60 with 43 seconds left. But the Tommies made seven of eight free throws in the final 40 seconds to seal the win.
"We have a long way to go, but if we continue to get better and fight like we did tonight, we will be in every game we play," Logie said.
Tommy Hannon had seven rebounds for UST as the Tommies controlled the backboard 34-26. UST went 21-25 (84%) from the free throw line, while Whitworth made 15-23 (65%).
Whitworth lost a home opener for the first time since 1978, when the Pirates fell to NCAA Division I Gonzaga University in the Fieldhouse.
Whitworth will host University of Mary Hardin-Baylor on Friday afternoon at 3:00 pm. With students away for Thanksgiving break, Whitworth is opening the doors for free as a Black Friday special for that game only.