Story by Ron Smith, Westmont Athletics
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Sean McDonnell scored 20 points and Cory Blau added 18 as #7 Westmont Men's Basketball (14-1, 3-0) defeated #14 Arizona Christian (12-2, 0-2 GSAC) on its home court Tuesday night by a score of 79-71. McDonnell added seven rebounds to his statistical totals while Blau contributed a career-high seven assists.
The scoring began with a steal by Arizona Christian's Shy McClelland whose pass to Steven Loucks resulted in a thunderous fast-break dunk to give the Firestorm a 2-0 lead. Westmont responded, however, with a layup by McDonnell and a three-pointer from Jerry Karczewksi to claim a 5-2 advantage.
A three-pointer by the Firestorm's Al Brown with 11:47 remaining in the opening frame would recapture the lead for Arizona Christian. It was another two minutes before either team scored. That's when Westmont's Zac Jervis tipped in a missed field goal by Britton Williams to put the Warrior ahead for good.
Three-point buckets, free throws and Warrior defense turned out to be the story of the night. Westmont was eight for 17 (.471) from long distance while the Firestorm made five of 23 from beyond the arc (.217).
"Every time you go on the road to ACU it is a challenging place to play," said Westmont head coach John Moore. "Our guys played with incredible poise and great mental toughness. On place you see mental toughness is how you shoot from the free throw line and we were 25 of 29, which is a pretty good percentage.
"I think the defense we played for most of the game was really locked in," offered the coach. "We held the conference's leading scorer Chris Sterling to eight points under his average and Matt Willkomm, who hails from Arroyo Grande and went to Allan Hancock College, scoreless."
Sterling averages 20.6 points per game while Willkomm adds another 11.1 per game for the Firestorm.
Westmont's Hayden Anderson, playing in front of his hometown crowd, tallied 15 points and three assists.
"Every time Hayden plays in his hometown his is really special," noted Moore. "He was the one who guarded Sterling. Hayden shot it well, missing just one field goal. It was a perfect homecoming game."
Also scoring in double figures were Sean Harman and Jerry Karczewksi who notched 12 points each. Harman also had five rebounds and Karczewksi dished off three assists.
The Warriors would lead by as much as 16 points in the first half (35-19). However the Firestorm ended the opening frame on a 7-0 run to close within nine at the intermission (35-26).
In the second half, Westmont maintained a lead between six and 13 points through the first 16 minutes. With 3:58 remaining in regulation, Brown scored on a layup and added a free throw to pull the Firestorm to within five points
Blau responded with a three-point bucket, but Brown was fouled on the subsequent possession and converted two free throws to make the score 68-62 with 3:18 to play. Nearly a minute later, McDonnell made two free throws to extend the Warriors' lead back to eight (70-72), but Brown struck again, this time from downtown, making the score 70-65 with 2:12 to play.
Harman drove the paint to score a Warrior layup before Sterling drained two from the charity stripe to make the score 72-67 with 1:34 showing on the clock.
With 1:10 to go, Karczewksi missed a three-point shot from the top of the key. However, in what Moore called, 'the play of the game', Harman hustled after the rebound to keep possession for the Warriors.
"They had to foul him and Sean made both free throws," said Moore. "That was a momentum swing our way."
With 56 seconds remaining McClelland made the score 74-69 with a layup. Then Sterling scored twice from the free throw line, cutting Westmont advantage to just three points (74-71) with 39 second remaining. However, the Warrior defense stiffened and those proved to be the last points the Firestorm would score. Westmont tacked on five more free throws - two each by Anderson and Blau and one by McDonnell - to account for the final score.
The Warriors return home from Arizona to prepare for Saturday's showdown with #3 Biola (15-1, 1-1 GSAC). The Eagles were 66-64 winners over The Master's (11-2, 1-2) this evening in La Mirada. Tip-off on Saturday is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.