With its leading scorer in foul trouble, Westmont freshman Jared Brown decided to do his best Abram Carrasco impression.
Brown scored 18 points, pulled down four rebounds and dished out four assists Saturday afternoon to lead the No. 4 Warriors to an 87-73 victory over Menlo at Murchison Gym. His team-best 12 points in the first half were key in the victory, while the late-game shooting from Justin Bessard helped Westmont pull away down the stretch.
“I thought Jared was really special tonight,” said Westmont coach John Moore. “He was just really confident.
“When ‘Bram’s in the game, (Brown) kind of plays second fiddle and he’s very good at that and more than willing to, but when ‘Bram is out of the game he knows that it’s his turn.”
It was a start to forget for the Warriors (22-2, 11-1 in GSAC), who opened the game 2-for-7 shooting, including 0-4 from downtown, and three turnovers in the first 5:30. The Oaks (15-7, 9-4 in GSAC) opened a 13-4 lead as Carrasco picked up his second foul and was forced to head to the bench. He was held to just two points on three shots in five minutes in the first half. Carrasco later told the News-Press he tried to convince Moore and the staff to let him back in the game but tried to make an impact from the bench.
“I just felt like I had to be there on the bench and supporting my people,” he said. “I think I did well giving them a boost.”
Gyse Hulsebosch checked in for Carrasco and also helped pick up the scoring load. Hulsebosch had an impact right away, draining a 3-pointer from the top of the key just moments after Carrasco’s exit.
“He’s just instant offense,” Moore said of the junior guard. “He’s really comfortable playing with the ball in his hands and playing without the ball.”
The Oaks opened up a 21-13 lead with 10:13 left in the first half before Westmont went on a 22-3 run over the next seven-plus minutes to take a 35-24 lead with less than two minutes left in the half. Bessard connected from deep and scored off an offensive rebound to help Westmont extend its lead, but Menlo closed the first half on a 10-2 run to cut into the deficit. Jeremiah Testa knocked down a corner three, followed by a hoop and the harm with 1:13 left, to cut the Westmont lead to 37-32. Menlo’s John Paine was 3-for-3 from distance in the first 20 minutes, and his two free throws with 26 seconds left before the break cut the Westmont lead to 37-34.
Westmont opened the second half on an 11-4 run, capped off by another triple by Brown to make it 46-39 with 17:34 left in the game.
Carrasco picked up his fourth foul, including his second offensive foul in the half, with 15:15 to go and was again forced to the bench. The team was able to rally, as a 3-pointer by Hunter Sipe gave Westmont a 61-45 lead with 12:20 to go.
The Oaks answered back with a 10-0 run. Parker Haven converted a three-point play and a few plays later Testa scored on a reverse layup to make it 61-55 with 9:02 left.
Carrasco checked back in and immediately made an impact. He scored on a layup and on the ensuing possession chased down a loose ball and went the distance of the floor for two. His lone triple of the day gave Westmont a 72-59 lead with 5:37 left, but the Oaks refused to fold.
Testa drilled a corner three and Menlo’s Khalid Price knocked down a floater in the lane to make it a nine-point game, but Westmont would answer in a big way.
With 4:03 left, Carrasco drew a double team on a pick-and-roll, but rather than crashing to the rim Bessard floated out behind the three-point arc. The senior confidently caught the wrap-around pass from Carrasco and splashed a 3-pointer to push the lead back to 12.
Menlo cut the deficit to 76-69 following a Price 3-pointer, but Carrasco, who finished with 14 points, was able to split the double team and convert for two before Bessard put the game away.
With the shot clock running down, it was again Carrasco and Bessard with the two-man game, and the big man again had the touch from deep. Bessard’s third 3-pointer of the game put Westmont in front 81-69 with 1:59 left, sending the Warriors’ student section into a frenzy.
Carrasco knows that the 6-6 big man knocking down shots makes Westmont tough to guard, while Bessard said he just needs to stay out of his own head when he gets the ball on the outside.
“I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to shooting because I get too mad at myself, but today I just kept letting it fly,” said Bessard, who finished with a game-high 23 points and nine rebounds.
And how did that final three feel as it left his fingers?
“I already knew it was butter as soon as I left it go,” the Los Angeles native said with a smile.
Moore was impressed with Bessard’s composure and touch from distance.
“JB is a very good 3-point shooter, so I’m extremely comfortable with him doing that,” he said. “Three-for-five from the 3-point line for your post guy, that’s pretty darn good.”
Hulsebosch finished with 14 points in 32 minutes.
“He could be a starter on probably every other team in the league,” Bessard said of Hulsebosch. “He comes in plays and gives us great minutes every game.
“He’s probably going to start the next game, too.”
Huslebosch got the second half start after Cade Roth went down with an apparent knee injury. His playing status will be determined this week, Moore said.
The Oaks entered Saturday’s game winners of eight straight in the conference, having just defeated the 12th ranked The Masters last week. The Warriors now are leading the GSAC by three games with five remaining, but Bessard was not ready to crown the team quite yet.
“We’re looking at the big picture and we want to win every time we step on the court. We haven’t really done anything yet,” he said. “We’re number one in league but that doesn’t mean anything until it’s all over. We’re trying to win a GSAC championship, a GSAC Tournament championship and a National Championship. We’ve still got a long way to go.”