By Justin Busby
Men’s basketball beat Clark College in overtime during the first round of the NWAC tournament but are defeated by Walla-Walla in the second round.
The Orcas clinched the 4th seed of the North division with a play-in victory 87-84 against the Everett Trojans and received their 12th ever berth into the NWAC tournament.
The game provided the men an extra opportunity to play at the Walt Price Student Fitness Center, the home of the post-season tournament, and become accustomed to the court before the best teams in the NWAC descended in Everett.
The Orcas were paired against the Clark College Penguins, co-champion and first seed in the South division, on Thursday March 9th in the first round of playoffs. The Orcas came out strong and eager to go, almost too eager it seemed as center Daulton Lootens shoe flew off his foot in the first minute of action while leaping for a rebound underneath the hoop.
After the shoe was finally reattached to Lootens foot, the Orca’s center battled hard in the paint all game putting up 22 points in nearly 37 minutes of action including overtime, as well as going a perfect nine for nine from the free throw line.
The first round matchup was as tight as could be with Clark catching up to Whatcom every time they started to establish a lead, even taking the advantage over the Orcas into halftime 40-41.
Dante Lewis showed up about nine minutes into the second half and drained three 3-pointers in two minutes, extending the Orca’s lead to 11 points with less than nine minutes remaining. It wasn’t enough as Clark’s defense prevented the Orcas from creating a bigger scoring gap and tied up the game 74-74.
In overtime, the Orcas proved their stamina and their scoring abilities as they outscored the Penguins 10-4 in the five minutes of extra basketball to win the game 84-78.
Leif Anderson and Alex Martin showed their endurance by leading the court in total minutes playing for a combined 83.5 minutes while contributing 16 and 15 points respectively. With Deon Thomas not starting for the third game in a row with a hamstring injury, the team needed someone to step up in the assists column and Martin was their man distributing nine assists on the night.
Whatcom played the next day in an Elite Eight matchup against the number three ranked Walla-Walla Warriors, coming off a 69-67 win against the Pierce Raiders.
Walla-Walla jumped to a 19-point lead in the first 5 minutes thanks to a barrage of 3-point shots from the top the key, and recording their 10th 3-pointer of the game before 13 minutes had passed. Along with precise shooting from behind the arc, Walla-Walla’s defense immediately pressured Whatcom’s offense, forcing low-percentage shots and pressuring shooters into bad angles on contested lay-ins, culminating in a 20.6 first half field goal percent.
The Orca’s also had trouble taking care of the ball in the early moments of the game turning it over six times in the first 10 minutes. All these variables factored together for one of Whatcom’s most difficult first halves of the season trailing 66-28.
With a nearly 40-point deficit to a team shooting 52.2 percent from outside the arc, the task of coming back may have seemed too arduous for the fans watching in Everett’s gym, but not for the Orcas.
This was a game of two halves as Whatcom came out determined to cut down Walla-Walla’s monstrous lead and significantly improve their performance.
The Orcas started out the second half with 9-0 run in the first three minutes spurred by Anderson and Lootens.
The Orcas also tweaked their defense to stop the hemorrhaging of points by closing down their guards quicker and farther away from the arc to prevent the 3-point shot, and it worked, dropping the Warrior’s percentage down to a measly 11.1 percent.
On the other hand, Whatcom’s shooting improved tremendously to 46.3 percent from the field for the second half. Anderson, Martin, and Kalien Hayes drove with increased intensity into the paint, fighting for lay-ins and earning and-ones.
Even with the improved effort and execution of the second half, and Anderson’s 29-points the Orcas couldn’t make up the ground the Warrior’s created in the first, Orcas fall 80-100.
Unfortunately for the Orcas, and all of us, there is no consolation bracket and the men’s 2016-17 season is over. The men finished with an 18-10 overall record and will be saying farewell to sophomores Leif Anderson, Deon Thomas, Quinn Daugherty, and Daulton Lootens.
Deon Thomas finished fourth on the NWAC leaderboards for assists (109/4.05 apg) as well as 11th for steals (45/2.05 spg).
Daulton Lootens finished 16th in rebounds (214/7.64 rpg) and 19th for blocks (28/1.00 bpg). Quinn Daugharty finished fourth in 3-point percentage (34/46.6%) and Alex Martin finished seventh in steals (62/2.21 spg).