SPOKANE, Wash -- Leading nearly the entire game, the Lewis & Clark Pioneers avoided falling behind after the No. 10 Whitworth Pirates tied the game three times in the second half. On the fourth tie, 68-68, Whitworth was able to capture the lead with 2:22 remaining and hold off the Pios in a 77-75 final at Whitworth Fieldhouse.
Lewis & Clark built an 11-point lead in the first half and never relinquished the lead throughout most of the second. Trailing 72-68, Mak Hutson hit a 3-pointer to bring Lewis & Clark within one with 1:28 remaining, but the Pioneers never moved back ahead.
Ryan Cibull, who had 10 first-half points, heaved a three-quarter court shot that hit the rim at the buzzer. It would have won the game.
Both teams struggled to score early, going about two minutes without a field goal. Following Whitworth's four-point lead, the Pirates' only time ahead until the late second half, Lewis & Clark (7-14, 3-9 NWC) made eight shots in a row to build an 18-12 edge before going cold and missing seven consecutive shots.
Eventually, the Pioneers ballooned the lead to 11 with 5:01 remaining in the first. Whitworth (17-4, 9-3 NWC) rallied back to get within three at halftime. Lewis & Clark shot 57 percent from the floor in the first half as Mak Hutson and Kody Kennedy combined for 15 points in the initial 20 minutes. Zeke Crawford was limited to two minutes in the first because of two quick fouls. The Pios had Daelon Floyd, Kennedy and Crawford in precarious foul situations throughout the game.
Lewis & Clark continuously kept the Pirates from regaining a lead. Ben College made a 3-pointer for Whitworth and tied the game at 44-44 before Floyd answered with a layup and took a foul on the next Pioneers possession. Reigning Northwest Conference Player of the Year Kyle Roach's layup with 10:33 left tied the game at 53 apiece, but Floyd scored the next basket again. Roach scored once more two minutes later before Crawford made back-to-back layups to move the Pios ahead by four with 7:14 remaining. Lewis & Clark moved up by seven with 5:02 on the clock before the Pirates completed their rally.
- The Pioneers were seeking their first win over Whitworth since 2013-14
- Entering the game with two straight losses, the Pirates were in danger of losing their third game in a row for the first time since 2008
- Lewis & Clark outscored Whitworth off the bench, 17-4, led by eight from Andrew Panicacci
- Kyle Owens hit a 3-pointer with 6:34 to play that was part of an 11-4 run by the Pios to build a 66-59 lead
- The Pioneers have shot no worse than 47 percent in a game over their last five contests, a season-best stretch
- However, Lewis & Clark shot its poorest from the free-throw line, 6 of 11, since Jan. 12, seven games ago
- The Pios were the second-best free-throw shooting team in the NWC entering the weekend
- Hutson led the Pios with three assists, giving him three or more in three of his last five games
- With three blocks on Saturday, Crawford has had multiple blocks in four straight games
- Pulling down seven boards, Kennedy had his first back-to-back games with seven or more rebounds as a Pioneers student-athlete
- Lewis & Clark has made six or more 3-point field goals in six of their last eight games including seven on Saturday
- Whitworth's 77 points scored is its fourth-lowest total this season in 21 games
With the loss, Lewis & Clark remains three games behind George Fox for the final NWC tournament spot with four games to play. George Fox and Willamette, both ahead of the Pios in the standings, lost on Saturday, while Puget Sound won.
Next weekend, the Pios host Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran. Lewis & Clark also plays its season finale at Willamette on Feb. 16.