Abram Carrasco didn’t take long to thrill the home fans at Murchison Gym on Thursday night.
The junior guard went off from the opening tip, scoring Westmont’s first 11 points of the game. Carrasco finished with 22 points, 20 in the first half, to lead the Warriors to an 87-74 victory over Arizona Christian in a Golden State Athletic Conference game.
Carrasco would have probably scored a lot more had he not been in foul trouble. He picked up two fouls in the first half and collected his third and fourth very early in the second half, which limited him to just three minutes of playing time after halftime.
“Honestly, I thought I was going to go for 40 this game, but I picked up some early fouls and then got my fourth early in the second half, so that kind of slowed me down,” said Carrasco, who finished 10-for-14 from the field. “We got out of here with a tough win.”
That they did, and it was Carrasco who got them out to a lead they would not relinquish. His 3-pointer just 26 seconds into the game got the scoring going.
“He was fantastic,” Westmont coach John Moore said. “How about Abram Carrasco in the first half? I’ll answer my own question: I thought he was very, very special.
“It’s one of the strangest games I’ve ever coached. The guy scores 22 and what did he play in the second half, three minutes? To win a game after your hot player, your leading scorer goes out, and to be able to manage the game and extend the lead when he’s out, I thought was really fantastic.”
The Warriors, thanks to Carrasco’s early explosion, jumped out to a 20-6 lead. They eventually got it to 21 with 8:09 to play in the game when forward Tristan Lloyd scored two of his six points to make it 68-47.
Moore praised the play of Lloyd, who came off the bench, as well as freshman guard Jared Brown and freshman reserve forward Noah Fernando. All three, along with Cade Roth (13 points) and Hunter Sipe (10 points) were outstanding in their roles for Westmont.
“To have a freshman guard play against their pressure all game long like Jared Brown had to. He only scored six points but he really helped run our team,” Moore said.
“They are an explosive team, so we were trying to slow the game down a little bit. “What we were trying to do was just take a few seconds off the clock because they’re such a good transition-offensive team. I thought we did a really nice job of that and making them take the ball out of the net.”
As good as Carrasco, Brown, Roth, Fernando, Lloyd and others were for the Warriors, the standout performer for Westmont (20-2, 9-1 GSAC) was Justin Bessard.
The senior center from Los Angeles finished with a double-double of 23 points — which was a game high — and 13 rebounds. Bessard really helped pick up the slack with Carrasco on the bench for most of the second half by scoring 13 points over the final 20 minutes.
“JB had a really, really nice game,” Moore said. “He seems to do really well against these guys. He knows a lot of them from his Pima Community College days. I was really proud of JB as well.”
Bessard finished 7-for-17 from the field, which included two 3-pointers in the second half. Bessard was also a pivotal figure for the Warriors in their ability to slow the game down against a very athletic Arizona Christian (16-6, 6-4 GSAC) team. Over the final 10 minutes of the game, Bessard basically ran the offense from out top, listening to every command his coach shouted from the nearby bench.
“That’s a tough team and this was a big game for us and for them,” Bessard said. “They came in just (two games) behind us, so this was big for us to get the win. The team played really hard. I thought we ran our offense extremely well and we had a solid performance.”
Westmont, with a brand new starting five from last season’s team, is enjoying one of the finest campaigns in program history.
With eight games remaining before the GSAC postseason tournament, the Warriors are already at 20 wins. Moore has been asked repeatedly about how this new-look team has been able to achieve so much success so quickly.
It’s a question he never gets tired of having to answer.
“To get to 20 wins at this point with this particular team … we have just gelled in such a short period of time. I think Abram and JB have a lot to do with that,” Moore said. “I believe in this team big time. This is the start of the second half of league, and our question to our guys was which team has grown the most between Arizona Christian and Westmont College?
“I think you saw that answer tonight. I like how much we’ve grown since the last time we played these guys in early December (a 70-69 Westmont win). It’s been almost two months since the last time we played them, and we have grown significantly.”
Westmont shot 46% from the field and 36% from 3-point range. The Warriors were also 18 of 22 from the free-throw line.
Westmont hosts OUAZ in a GSAC game on Saturday at 3 p.m.