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Whitworth snaps Boxers' five-game winning streak


Pacific suffers a 65-52 home loss to reigning Northwest Conference champion Whitworth

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Pacific guard Cameron Hayes gets off a shot over the Whitworth defense during last Friday's 65-52 Northwest Conference loss.The Boxers could not quite hang with the champs.

The Pacific men’s basketball team drew a challenging opponent for its Northwest Conference opener last Friday — four-time defending league champion Whitworth. In a contest in which points came at a relative premium, the Pirates showed why they have all those titles to their credit, holding the Boxers to just 27 percent shooting from the field in a 65-52 win at the Stoller Center.

The defeat snapped Pacific’s five-game win streak, the program’s longest in 14 years. The good news, though, was that Pacific salvaged a weekend split on Saturday night, tripping up Whitman 66-65 with two late free throws from Jordan Batey to improve to 8-3 overall and 1-1 in conference play.

Prior to the Whitworth loss, the last time the Boxers had tasted defeat was all the way back on Nov. 17 in a 70-68 setback against La Sierra.

“I think we had a great game plan going in,” Pacific coach Tim Cleary said. “The problem was we just couldn’t make any shots.”

Indeed, the Boxers played some solid defense of their own, holding the Pirates to just 38 percent shooting (24-for-63), including 25 percent from beyond the 3-point arc (4-for-16).

But the Boxers struggled even more with the ball, going 17-for-62. In fact, Pacific never led in the contest, though Whitworth could not extend its lead to more than a handful of points until late in the first half.

Daniel Zitani, the NWC’s leading scorer and rebounder, gave the home team some life by converting a three-point play with 7:27 left in the first stanza to knot the score at 13-all. But that was as close as the Boxers would get. Led by Christian Jurlina’s eight points, Whitworth ended the half on an 18-8 run.

The Boxers then spent most of the second half trailing by double digits. The deficit swelled to 50-31 on Colton McCargar’s layup with 7:38 to go before Pacific scored the next seven points.

“We’ve got to put two halves together, offensively and defensively,” said Budweiser Hawkins, who scored eight points off the bench for Pacific. “Defensively we played well, but I think we just didn’t shoot the ball as well as we usually do. Our shooters weren’t on, but any other night, we’ll knock them down.”

Mitch Wettig posted a team-best 13 points and 10 rebounds for Pacific. Riley Grandinetti also hit double figures with 10 points. Struggling through a 2-for-7 shooting night, Zitani added six points and seven rebounds.

Dustin McConnell led Whitworth with 14 points. McCargar (12 points), Jurlina (12) and George Valle (11) also had double-digit scoring outings.

“That was an unusual night for us,” Cleary said. “Their game plan on Daniel Zitani was very good, and they were able to limit his touches and his opportunities. When that happens, then your shooters have step up and make shots, and we just couldn’t knock them down.”

Cleary’s crew corrected that Saturday night against Whitman. In a game that featured 16 ties and 20 lead changes, Batey was clutch late. He scored two of his game-high 20 points on free throws with seven seconds remaining to lift the Boxers to their first victory against the Missionaries since the 2010-11 season.

Midway through the second half, Batey gave Pacific a 12-point advantage — its largest of the night — on a 3-pointer with 11:18 remaining. But Whitman, last season’s NWC runner-up, whittled away at the lead from there. The Missionaries went back in front 59-57 on Evan Martin’s layup with 4:11 remaining for their first lead of the second half.

Zitani converted a three-point play to put the Boxers up 64-63 with 21 seconds to go, but Whitman’s Josh Duckworth hit two free throws on the other end, putting the Boxers on the brink of an 0-2 league start until Batey’s late heroics.

Like Batey, Wettig came off the bench to reach double figures with 10 points. Coby Proctor added nine points and a game-high eight assists, while Cameron Hayes and Zitani had eight points apiece. Zitani also contributed a game-high nine rebounds.

The Boxers are now in the midst of a three-game road slate, though none of the games require much travel.

Pacific took on Willamette in Salem last night (results were not available at press deadline). The Boxers are slated to play at George Fox on Friday, and the team heads to Lewis & Clark on Saturday.