SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Fans at Murchison Gymnasium Tuesday evening witnessed an extremely hard-nosed hoops contest as Westmont Men's Basketball (5-2) took on the Stags of NCAA Division III Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (4-3). For the second time on the young season (assistant coach Jeff Azain on November 11), the Warriors bestowed the best birthday present a team member could ask for – a victory.
The game exhibited the aggressiveness, stingy defense, and physical exertion one would normally observe in a boxing ring. Overall, the evening featured eight ties and 13 lead changes. By the end of the night, Westmont had certainly earned their mascot's name, as the "Warriors" defeated the Stags by a score of 46-45.
"We played very good defense the last ten minutes of the first half, as well as throughout the second (half). We just couldn't score," Westmont head coach John Moore half-jokingly said. "It was like a prize fight out there. (CMS) was incredibly physical with us. This was a tremendous home win for us against a team that is going to be incredibly good this year."
The Warriors started off the game erratic on offense, committing turnovers on three of their first five possessions. However, they were still able to score the first points of the contest after redshirt freshman guard Billy Keller (5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals) connected on a lob pass and finish with junior center Daniel Carlin (13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks).
Westmont forced the Stags to shoot a measly 25 percent (7-for-28) in the initial 20 minutes, and even though the Warriors turned the ball over three times more than CMS did in the first half (nine to three), the halftime score (CMS 17, Westmont 16) was indicative of their defensive tenacity.
At the 12:35 mark of the second half, Westmont finally broke the lull. First, two converted free-throws by Carlin brought the Warriors within one point of the Stags. On the following CMS possession, Keller came up with a steal and passed ahead to sophomore guard Nate Marsing (2 points, 3 rebounds) who utilized a crafty move and laid the ball up for a score. This gave Westmont their first advantage since they delivered the game's opening basket.
Guards Mantas Drungys (6 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists), a senior, and Jared Wilson (2 points, 1 rebound), a junior, scored on the Warriors' next two offensive sequences to continue the surge. Senior forward C.J. Miller (14 points, 8 blocks) then knocked down two free-throws to make it 10 points in five possessions for the Warriors – in-game efficiency that Westmont had yet to taste during the clash.
Nevertheless, with five minutes remaining, the both teams once again found themselves in a stalemate at 37 all. Over the next two minutes, each would trade buckets until Drungys picked the pocket of a CMS guard and drove down court for a two-point score.
As it seemed it would throughout the game's entirety, the back-and-forth contest came down to the final possession.
With 32.7 seconds remaining, Westmont inbounded the ball and set up a play that culminated in Keller driving down the right baseline, pulling up for a 15-foot jumper, and nailing the go-ahead basket with 9.7 seconds beaming on the clock. As wide-eyed fans looked on, Carlin and Drungys disrupted two short shots by the Stags, with Carlin securing the decisive rebound after the final miss.
"Billy's last shot was the perfect cap to his birthday. For a guy who'd only made one basket up to that point in the game to have the guts to put that one in is a real sign of what kind of warrior he is – he's a gutty warrior," admired Moore.
In totality, Westmont shot 41.3 percent (19-for-46) from the floor (2-for-11 from three) and 54.5 percent from the charity stripe (6-for-11). Conversely, the Warriors held the Stags to just 37.7 percent shooting (20-for-53), and only surrendered four free-throw attempts to their foes.
"Daniel Carlin had a very nice game," praised Moore. "What won't show up in the box score is how many fouls he drew on their team, and how soon we got into the one-and-one because of those fouls. We didn't shoot it particularly well from the line, but I thought Daniel provided many positive opportunities for our team tonight.
"Mantas played a very nice game defensively," continued Moore. "On the last possession, (CMS) attacked the rim and Mantas made them take a tough shot. He played the kind of defense tonight that we need for us to really be successful this year."
The Warriors look to continue their success – and to make it five victories in a row – when they take on the Flames of Bethesda Friday. The team will have a short turnaround as they host UC Merced the next evening (Saturday). Both games will start at 7:30 p.m.