Johnson scores 25 in 66-57 loss at 17th-ranked Whitworth

SPOKANE, Wash. - Whitworth College won the first battle but the Northwest Conference war is still to be settled after the Pirates defeated visiting Willamette University 66-57 in a match-up of the top two teams in the NWC men's basketball standings on Saturday night.

The 17th-ranked Pirates overcame a three-point halftime deficit to improve to 14-1 overall and 5-1 in the NWC. The Bearcats had a five-game winning streak snapped and fell to 10-3, 4-1.

Defensive-minded Willamette held Whitworth to only 41.1% shooting from the field and had a slight edge in rebounding. But the Bearcats had 11 turnovers while the Pirates had six (only one in the decisive second half).

Four players scored in double-figures for the Pirates, led by freshman guard Paul Hafford who came off of the bench to hit for 16 points. Chase Williams added 15 points and Bryan Depew, who was in foul trouble most of the second half, finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. Eric Avery added 11 points.

Willamette got an outstanding performance from senior forward Marques Johnson, who totaled 25 points and eight rebounds. Miles Sandgathe added 11 points.

The first half saw five ties and five lead changes before the Bearcats went to the locker room with a 25-22 lead. The 22 points was the lowest scoring half of the season for the Pirates. Whitworth was held to 28.6% shooting and was outrebounded 23-15.

The Pirates outscored the Bearcats 7-3 to start the second half and retake the lead 29-28. The teams traded leads eight more times before a three-pointer by Hafford tied the game at 42-42.

After the teams traded another pair of baskets Williams worked free inside for a pair of layins and the Pirates never trailed again. Another Hafford three pointer and one from Williams came on either side of an inside basket by the Bearcats' Johnson and the Pirates had a 56-48 lead with 6:07 to play. Whitworth hit eight of 10 free throws down the stretch to preserve the lead.

Whitworth will remain at home to host Whitman on Tuesday night. The Missionaries beat Linfield to improve to 3-3 in the NWC. Willamette will play at a 4-2 Pacific team on Tuesday.