December 31, 2012
By -, -
SANTA BABARA, Calif. - The seventh-ranked Westminster (Utah) men's basketball team avenged its only loss of the season with a thrilling comeback win over No. 5 Westmont (Calif.) in the championship game of the 37th Annual Tom Byron Classic, 78-71.
The win is the ninth straight for Westminster and improves them to 13-1 overall on the season. They become the first team to defeat Westmont (10-3) in their annual tournament since 2006.
"This was an excellent win for our program," head coach Adam Hiatt said. "I felt we were pressing too much in the first half and once we calmed down we were able to defend them."
After falling behind 16-4 in the first six minutes of the game, Westminster responded with a run of 14-3 to cut the deficit to 19-18 at the 10:27 mark. Blake Skidmore sparked the run with five quick points off the bench and Jordan Bjornberg came up with six points during the run, including two put back layups.
Jake Orchard would score the Griffins next eight points, including a triple and an original three-point-play. Westmont would push the lead back to 12 after threes from Preston Branson and Jason Ritchey and layups by Daniel Carlin and Niko Brooks. The half would end with the Warriors holding a 39-28 advantage after holding the Griffins without a field goal for the final 5:32.
The Griffins would open the second half with back-to-back layups from Alex Drecksel and Colton Moon to start 11-5 run that got them within six with 16:03 left. They would get the deficit back within 60-52 when Brooks made another three for Westmont to push the lead back to 11 with seven minutes left.
A put-back from Bjornberg and another from Tallon Robertson would get the Griffins back within six as the game reached five minutes to play. Moon would knock down a long three after Robertson grabbed an offensive rebound and it was 63-61 Westmont. Moon would then get fouled attempting a three on the next Griffin possession and make two to tie the game for the first time of the night and cap a 9-0 by the Griffins.
Westminster would take their first lead of the night with 3:45 to play when Orchard made a layup to push the Griffins run to 11 straight points. Another Moon triple with 2:45 to play broke a 65-65 tie and gave the sophomore eight points in the half. Robertson would post back-to-back layups to force a Westmont timeout and the Griffins led 72-65 with just over one minute left.
The Griffins would seal the game at the line and finished the contest on a 26-7 run. They held Westmont to 2-of-11 shooting and forced four turnovers during the decisive run.
"Once we got the game even I felt real good about our chances," Hiatt commented. "We were forcing them into turnovers and making them play outside of their comfort zone.
Westminster would shoot 46.3 percent from the floor in the win and turned it up in the second half where they made 55.6 percent of their shots. They were just 5-of-17 from beyond the arc, but closed the rebounding gap down the stretch. Again the Griffins took advantage of miscues by the opposition. Westmont committed 23 turnovers which resulted in 30 Griffin points.
Orchard led four Griffins in double figures with 17 points by doing most of his damage at the foul line where he was 10-of-13. Moon finished with 14 points, all after halftime, and had three treys, one assist and two steals. Bjornberg finished with 12 points and seven rebounds off the bench while Drecksel added 10 points.
Robertson was named the tournament's most valuable player after scoring 30 points in the two games. He had nine points on Saturday and led the team with nine rebounds and three blocked shots. Orchard and Moon were also named to the all-tournament team.
Preston Branson led the Warriors with 16 points and joined the three Griffins on the all-tournament team. Niko Brooks had 15 points and two steals with Cooper Damron going for 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Westminster will return to Frontier Conference play next as the travel to Lewiston, Idaho to face Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) on Jan. 3. The action from the Lewiston Activity Center will begin at 8:30 p.m.