Westmont was the visiting team for its Tom Byron Classic game against Park University of Arizona on Tuesday.
But the Warriors were right at home in the win column when it was over.
Junior guard Abram Carrasco had a game-high 26 points and senior Justin Bessard finished with 23 points and nine rebounds to lead Westmont to a 90-79 victory at Murchison Gym.
It was the Warriors’ 14th straight victory to start the season, a feat that continues to bewilder 27th-year coach John Moore — considering Westmont doesn’t return one starter from last season’s team that won 18 games.
“They continue to surprise me in a delightful way,” Moore said. “I’m really, really impressed with how our guys have come together in a short period of time. I can’t wait to keep coaching them.”
Playing on their home floor against Park, the Warriors got off to a roaring start, thanks in large part to Carrasco.
Westmont jumped out to a 31-17 lead on a 3-pointer by Carrasco at the 9:08 mark of the first half. He had nine of the Warriors’ first 14 points and ended the half with 17. A lot of Carrasco’s scoring came from fast-break opportunities off of turnovers and defensive rebounds. The transition game is one of many things Westmont does extremely well.
“My teammates were able to find me in transition a lot,” Carrasco said. “Playing defense and playing fast-paced, which is what we want to do, the pace of the game was something I’m used to.
“It was easier for me to get up and down the floor with the pace of the game, and coach lets me do that because that’s what I’m most comfortable doing. I thank him for letting me do that.”
Unfortunately for the Warriors, the end of the first half and a good part of the second half did not mirror the start of the game.
Despite trailing by as many as 16 in the first half, the Buccaneers (7-11) cut the deficit to 45-42 at halftime thanks to a 25-11 run to end the half. They got even closer in the second half when Eric Patten made one of two free throws to make it 47-46 at the 18:37 mark.
After the Warriors went on a 14-4 run over the next seven-plus minutes to take a 61-50 lead, Park came back again — getting to within five at 63-58 with 11:38 remaining in the game.
Westmont finally pulled away down the stretch, but it was a victory that didn’t come without a few struggles at both ends of the floor.
“I wasn’t very pleased with the way we played,” Moore said. “I think we’re a much better team than you saw, especially in the first half. But with that being said, I thought our defense was much better in the second half.
“A win is a win, though. I can’t be overly critical when we win. We played great (in a victory over Calgary on Monday night), but we didn’t play quite as well today.”
Bessard, a 6-foot-6 senior center who looks like a guard at times with his athleticism and ability to play on the perimeter, was a key figure in the Warriors’ latest victory.
He scored 13 of his 23 points in the first half, and his defense was outstanding throughout the game. Bessard was also clutch at the free-throw line, finishing 9 of 12. He, like the rest of his teammates, was very effective in transition from defense to offense.
“I feel like the way our team is put together, we’re all interchangeable parts,” Bessard said. “We can play all around the floor and we really mesh as a unit.
“From the first day, we felt like we were a brotherhood, and that’s how we play on the court. Without my teammates, I wouldn’t be able to do anything that I’m doing. Everything they’re doing is reflecting in my play, too.”
Junior guard Hunter Sipe finished with 15 points and sophomore guard Cade Roth had 10 for Westmont (14-0), which gets set to play UCSB at the Thunderdome on Thursday night.
“I wish we had a couple of more days to prepare. Actually, I wish we had a couple of more years to prepare,” Moore joked when asked about the 10-4 Gauchos. “Joe (Pasternack, UCSB coach) does a fantastic job. I love the way his players play together. They play so hard.
“It will be a big-time challenge for little old Westmont to go up against the big giant from the north end of town, but our guys can’t wait. We are so happy to play it as a regulation game.”
The game tips off at 7 p.m.