SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Fans on Saturday evening embraced many Warrior stars of the past as esteemed guests and honorees made the journey to Santa Barbara for Westmont Men's Basketball Alumni Weekend.
Attendees included a portion of the 1984 NAIA National Tournament Final Four team that finished the season 31-4 on their way to a fourth place finish nationally. Their legendary head coach, Chet Kammerer (1975-92), a NAIA Hall of Fame inductee in 2000, and whom the court inside Murchison Gymnasium is named after, was also in attendance.
Those who attended the festivities also witnessed a bit of sporting redemption, as Westmont Men's Basketball (15-7, 4-4 GSAC) defeated Golden State Athletic Conference foe San Diego Christian (7-10, 3-5) 73-61. The victory avenged the Warriors' 98-95 loss to the Hawks on January 18 in El Cajon.
"Any time you have a reunion event, you just love when your guys play well in front of a group of guys that you have coached, or that Chet or Ron Mulder (Westmont's head coach from 1972-74 who also sang the National Anthem Saturday evening) has coached," reflected Westmont head coach John Moore.
"As a coach, something like tonight just makes you really pleased that your team cares enough about the guys who are in the gym watching, especially since some of them will only get to watch you play once.
"Even more, it was special that Chet got to see one of his former players, (Westmont assistant coach) Jeff Azain, lead a new generation of Warriors to victory," continued Moore.
Per the recent usual, it was Westmont basketball by committee, as all five starters registered points consecutively to begin the contest. Driven by the early offensive efficiency, the Warriors jumped out to a five-point lead.
However, Hawks' guard Derek Dickerson (18 points) made certain that his team wouldn't fall into an insurmountable hole early. The senior connected on 3-of-4 three-point baskets, and added two points on two free throws as he tallied 11 of San Diego Christian's first 14 points. Led by Dickerson's propensity to score, the Hawks took back the game, leading 16-14 at the 9:11 mark of the first half.
In retaliation, the Warriors unleashed a bevy of firepower themselves. Sophomore guard Billy Keller (13 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist) and senior Jason Ritchey (12 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist) burst into action, recording seven and six points respectively over the first half's last nine minutes of play.
Supported by the duo's first half shooting (6-of-10), the Warriors recaptured the game, and finished the initial half with a 10 point advantage – 36-26.
Senior forward C.J. Miller (21 points, 12 rebounds 2 assists, 1 block) exploded out of the intermission, hitting on four shots as he chronicled nine straight Westmont points to get the second half underway.
"Isn't it ironic that the guy with the greatest legacy, C.J. Miller, had the biggest night of them all," pondered Moore. "His father and brothers, who played here, were with us tonight, so I'm sure the whole Miller family was extremely proud of him. However, the whole Warrior basketball family was proud of the way that Westmont played defense tonight, and of the way C.J. led us to victory."
Late in the second half, a three-point basket by San Diego Christian's Trevor English (12 points) slashed the Hawks' deficit back to single digits (eight) with 6:13 left to play. Then, with 2:45 left, English picked off a pass and laid the ball up to cut the Westmont lead to six.
Even with an abundance of long-range treys (nine) supplementing the Hawk's comeback efforts, the Warriors came up clutch at the free-throw line to seal their fourth GSAC win. Miller, who logged 15 points in the contest's latter period, along with fellow senior Mantas Drungys (11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists), and Keller, all hit big free throws down the stretch to propel their team to victory.
Coming into tonight, Westmont held the highest field goal percentage in the conference (47.9), but also owned the conference's lowest free-throw statistics as a team (62.8). However, this blemish didn't show tonight as Westmont converted on 79.2 percent (19-of-24) of their attempts from the charity stripe, with a stellar 11-of-12 effort (91.6 percent) in the game's final five minutes.
In totality, the Warriors shot 44.8 percent (26-of-58) from the floor. Comparably, the Hawks managed an almost uniform 24-of-58 (41.4 percent).
Ultimately, the true difference maker in the game turned out to be Westmont's largest rebounding differential of the season.
The Warriors tracked down 50 rebounds, as opposed to 21 boards by San Diego Christian. More importantly, 18 of the Warriors' rebounds came on the offensive glass, providing the team with a multitude of second chance opportunities.
"Rebounding is about hustle," preached Moore. "C.J. with six offensive rebounds and a guard like Nate Marsing (9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block) with three shows you that. Those are 18 additional possessions that helped us win the game tonight."
In other GSAC news, No. 18 Biola handed No. 9 Vanguard their first GSAC loss on the season. The Eagles upset the Lions at home In La Mirada 72-64. Additionally, Arizona Christian defeated The Master's at home 81-70, and No. 22 Concordia escaped Hope International in Irvine 62-57.
With their win tonight, Westmont is now tied for fourth place in the conference with Arizona Christian. Vanguard remains in first at 7-1, Concordia and Biola are tied for second at 5-3 apiece, San Diego Christian now sits alone in sixth, and Hope International and The Master's round out the GSAC tied for seventh at 2-6 in league competition.
This upcoming Tuesday, Moore, Azain, and company travel to Costa Mesa for a significant matchup with Vanguard. Their hopes for an upset against the Lions (20-3) begin to unfold at 7:30 p.m. sharp.