The Missionaries, in Skip Molitor's first year at the helm, finished in the top half of the always tough Northwest Conference of Independent Colleges (NCIC) and made the post- season playoffs. Nine seniors finished their careers on a positive note, winning their last conference game on the road to secure a fourth and final playoff spot.
While compiling a record of 6-6 in conference and 10-18 overall, the Missionaries played an exciting brand of basketball. Whitman averaged 83 points a game in league contests, hit 41 percent of its 3-point attempts as team to lead the conference, and kept home crowds on the edge of their seats with four overtime thrillers against visiting conference opponents.
After opening the season with six consecutive losses, five of them on the road and all of them against strong opponents, the Missionaries broke into the win column with a weekend sweep at home against Lewis-Clark State and Eastern Oregon State. Whitman gained momentum and confidence throughout the middle portion of its schedule, winning nine of 13 games. Victims during that stretch included Central Washington University, a NAIA Division I school that later battled Lewis-Clark State for supremacy in the strong Pacific Northwest Athletic Conference.
With victories over NCIC powerhouses Lewis & Clark and Whitworth to its credit, Whitman sat atop its conference standings at the midway point. As the season neared its end, however, the Missionaries suffered through a heartbreaking weekend at home in Sherwood Center. Playing at less than full strength due to illness and injury, Whitman first dropped an overtime decision to Linfield, and then lost the next night in double overtime to Willamette, the eventual NCIC regular season champion.
That disastrous weekend left Whitman in a must-win situation as it traveled to Pacific University for its season finale. Pacific was fresh from upset victories over Lewis & Clark and Whitworth, but Whitman responded to the challenge with a resounding 98-79 win. Freshman Dan Rough sparked the triumph with a 38-point outburst, which included a spectacular 10-of-13 performance from the 3-point line.
With the victory, Whitman advanced to a first-round playoff date at Lewis & Clark College. The host team prevailed and later grabbed the NCIC's top berth to the NAIA national tournament.
Its season was over, but Whitman watched as a trio of Missionary seniors -- Brian Lewallen, Russ Mickelson and Dennis McNabb -- garnered all-conference awards.
Lewallen, who averaged 17 points per game in league play, was named to the NCIC second team for the second straight season. Lewallen made his mark at crunch time, hitting last second 3-pointers in two games, forcing overtime sessions against both Whitworth and Willamette.
Mickelson, who led Whitman in scoring the entire season, was named to the honorable mention all-conference team. Mickelson also forced an overtime with a 3-point buzzer beater in the victory over Pacific Lutheran. He averaged 16 points a game for the year, and he erupted with 33-point efforts against both Eastern Washington and Simon Fraser University.
McNabb, who was third in the conference in rebounding, was also tabbed for honorable mention all-conference recognition. McNabb's highlights included a clutch free throw with two seconds left on the clock to beat Whitworth.
Also gaining post-season honors was freshman Dan Rough, who shot 51 percent from the 3-point stripe for the season to lead the conference and all of NAIA Division II in that category. After working his way into the starting lineup in the middle of the season, Rough led the Missionaries in scoring in league contests, averaging 18 points per game.
The rest of the senior class contributed greatly to Whitman's success. Splitting time at the point position, Matt Smith and Max Dandoy were No.1 and No. 2, respectively, in team assists. Smith also led the team in steals while Dandoy averaged over five rebounds per conference game, an amazing statistic for a point guard who split minutes with Smith.
Jay McLaughlin, Jason Maki and Nate Kenney added significant point totals, providing important depth along the front line. Trey Hamilton, known for his screening ability and work ethic, rounded out the group of nine seniors -- each of whom will be missed greatly.
Andrew Schillinger, Ben Athay, Todd Jolley and redshirts Evan Jones and Davor Rukavina rounded out the Missionary roster last season. That group, along with Dan Rough, is the nucleus of this season's roster -- a team that hopes to follow in the successful footsteps of last year's senior-dominated squad.
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