From the get-go of the 38th Tom Byron Classic Championship Game, it was apparent that Westmont Men's Basketball (11-3) was primed to compete, and for the second night in a row, Warrior fans witnessed just how deep head coach John Moore's crew really is.
Upon completion of the two-day, four-game affair at Murchison Gymnasium, Moore and crew walked off of Kammerer Court and into the New Year as champions.
"It's always fun to win this tournament for the Byron family," said a smiling Moore. "Tom was a pretty special man to many people here at Westmont. Every time we play, I think of him."
It was star senior C.J. Miller (21 points on 7-of-12 shooting, 3-of-3 from three, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) who commanded the Warriors to victory over Saskatchewan (13-2). By a score of 84-74, The Warriors claimed their 21st Byron title.
On Westmont's first two possessions, the Warriors pulled down two offensive rebounds and recorded a steal, spawning the first five points of the game – a triple by Miller and a two-point jumper by Mantas Drungys (14 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal).
The senior duo faired fantastically in their two tournaments games, with Miller posting almost identical statistics each night.
In totality, Miller accumulated 43 points, 18 rebounds, four assists, one block, and three steals on his way to being named the tournament's most valuable player. Drungys wasn't far behind, earning all-tournament honors himself after accruing 31 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and two steals in two games.
"Mark Miller (C.J. Miller's father) and I played together at Westmont in the very first Tom Byron Classic," recollected Moore. "The fact that C.J. became MVP of this tournament makes it a really special night for me and the entire Miller family. It makes me really happy for him and our team that C.J. competed with the heart and energy that he did.
"Mantas had some moments tonight where he was really special as well," continued Moore. "He has been playing out of position for us the past two games, so it has been incredible to watch him adapt and do the things that he done for our team. I'm very proud of him."
Saskatchewan's Stephon Lamar and Ben Baker, Marygrove's Diante Taylor, and British Columbia Okanagan's Yassine Ghoruari rounded out the all-tournament team.
After a three pointer by Drungys gave Westmont an early 8-3 advantage, the Warriors would turn the ball over on three of their next five offensive trips. Consequently, for a few short minutes, the Huskies would enjoy their only lead of the game.
With 10 minutes gone in the first half, the contest was knotted at 20, with half of Westmont's points coming from Drungys. Then, Daniel Carlin (9 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) nailed two free throws to put the Warriors back ahead, 22-20. From that point forward, the Warriors would not trail again.
Nate Marsing (10 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists) also provided valuable scoring with eight of his 10 points resulting from successful charity stripe visits (8-of-11). His five first half points, along with Jared Wilson's (4 points, 1 assist, 1 steal) two free throws right before the halftime buzzer sent Westmont into the break with an eight-point lead (39-31).
With Miller at the helm of the Warriors' attack, their lead grew to 12 early in the second frame. Then, at the 14:48 mark, Kyle Gordon (15 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals) manufactured an old-school three-point play to push their advantage to 15.
Nonetheless, led by Dadrian Collins (19 points, 6 rebounds), Saskatchewan made a game of it in the second half. Numerous times, the Huskies fought their way to a sub 10-point deficit.
However, for the remainder of the game, a slew of Warriors would come up clutch with opportune buckets, propelling Westmont to a 60 percent shooting effort in the second half.
Once such player was freshman Cory Blau (11 points on 4-of-4 shooting – 3-of-3 from three, 2 rebounds). The Laguna Niguel native recorded the most single-game playing time of his young career with 22 minutes of action.
Along with Blau, Drungys' intensity at the point of attack, Miller's offensive consistency, and Gordon's sharpshooting proved too much for the Huskies, as the Warriors would salt the game away late.
"Kyle was pretty spectacular, and Cory made it a freshman coming out party," praised Moore. "They will both certainly factor into more games in the future."
Westmont now takes a two-week hiatus from competition before storming the court in La Mirada against rival Biola when Golden State Athletic Conference play instigates January 14.
The Warriors start league play with two road games (Biola and San Diego Christian) before they return home to host Vanguard on Tuesday, January 21. All games tip at 7:30 p.m. PST.