SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- The decision: it has now been two games since Westmont head coach John Moore made a tactical change to start all five of his seniors. The effect: another Golden State Athletic Conference victory.
Tonight, fans in Westmont's Murchison Gymnasium witnessed a highly defensive affair that culminated in a 58-50 victory over the Mustangs of The Master's (13-7, 1-4 GSAC). With two conference wins in as many games, Westmont Men's Basketball (13-6, 2-3 GSAC) is back in stride.
"Nobody looks at a defensive battle in basketball and equates it to a beautiful concert or a wonderfully choreographed ballet," Moore eloquently articulated. "But for those who love defense, well, we put on a show tonight."
In repetitive fashion of Saturday's contest against 23rd ranked Hope International, it was Brendan Hill (2 points, 3 rebounds, 8 assists) assisting Marcus Farrand (12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks) to begin the competition. Farrand, the 6-7 senior captain, put in eight of the Warriors' first 13 points, registered three quick blocks, and supplied ubiquitous post defense throughout.
After two knee surgeries and what felt like an eternity recuperating, Farrand is again at the forefront of the Warriors' collective success.
"Having our senior's collective experience on the court helps a lot," stated Farrand. "Four of us have been playing together for the past four years, so we really know each other's tendencies. Mantas (Drungys), over the past two years, has done a great job as well, so it makes it rather easy to communicate and act on what we want to do not only as team, but individuals as well.
"This is the type of level of play that I've been trying to get back to," continued Farrand. "After going through all of the physical therapy and having to put in a ton of extra work just to be cleared to touch the court, it's really nice to see everything come to fruition."
"Marcus inspires me," said Moore. "That's exactly what I said to all of his teammates. He's just completely sold out for our team right now, and it's getting the rest of our guys in the same vein. I love when seniors come to their last dance, and league play is exactly that. We started 0-3, and now we're 2-3, and Marcus has a great deal to do with that."
Three communal three-point field goals by Drungys (8 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal), Nate Marsing (5 points, 3 rebounds), and Kyle Gordon (3 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal) also powered the Warriors early, creating a 19-12 advantage just 10 minutes into the game.
As a team, Westmont's eight assists, six blocks, and feisty defensive pressure in the first half provided stability at each end of the floor. Upon restricting the Mustangs to a 28.6 shooting percentage halfway through the contest, the Warriors found themselves up five at the intermission, 28-23.
Out of the break, The Master's converted on two quick shots, subsequently abolishing the Warrior lead.
Nevertheless, after trading two buckets apiece, Westmont embarked on a 12 to nothing run. Led by seniors C.J. Miller (10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal) and Jason Ritchey (7 points, 1 rebounds, 1 assist), the Warriors sequestered the game once and for all, leading 44-32.
From that point forward, Westmont commanded the game by an average margin of 10. However, within the last minute, The Master's clambered furiously to retake the evening.
Hampered by relatively inept free-throw shooting late, the Warriors almost obliged the Mustang cause. Ultimately, it was freshman Cory Blau (5 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block), in a not so freshman like moment of swagger, who stepped up and knocked down two key free throws in the final 20 seconds to salt the game away.
Despite the Warriors' victory, Moore believes his squad still has ample room to improve.
"I'm a rebound hog right now," exclaimed Moore. "We're a very good rebounding team, but we gave up too many offensive rebounds (13) tonight. That's 13 additional possessions that we need to prevent.
"Also, our assist totals have been rising. Brendan did a great job tonight with his eight assists, and so did Billy Keller (2 points, 4 rebounds) with his five assists, but we need to cut down on some turnovers and get those touches back as well."
Moore also praised two bench contributors for their performances tonight.
"Daniel Carlin (4 points, 6 rebounds) was fantastic off of the bench and has really sparked us as well. What doesn't show up on paper is how many shots he alters while he's on the court. Cory's minutes were really important for us as well."
Six of eight GSAC teams now stand at either 3-2 or 2-3 in the conference, with #12 Vanguard (18-2) alone in first at 5-0, and The Master's at 1-4.
The Warriors will look to rise to the top half of the conference Thursday evening as a short turnaround pits them at home against #25 Arizona Christian (16-4, 2-3). That game will tip at 7:30 p.m.