The Warriors dropped a heartbreaker on Saturday afternoon in Murchison Gymnasium, as the Westmont men’s basketball team (11-5, 2-5 GSAC) fell Saturday to the Oaks of Menlo (11-4, 4-3) by a score of 95-90 in overtime.
The Warriors nearly won the game in regulation, but a 3-point bucket by Menlo’s N’jai LeBlanc (32 points, 5 assists, 3 steals) in the waning moments of the second half sent the game to overtime.
“I thought that we controlled most of the game,” said Westmont head coach Landon Boucher. “They jumped out on us early and our guys battled back and gained the lead. We controlled the rest of the game until six seconds to go.”
Menlo jumped out to a 9-0 lead before Jared Brown (12 points, 5 assists) launched a three to put the Warriors on the board. Menlo continued to press their advantage, building a 10-point cushion (18-8) before Westmont was able to turn the tide.
With 11:45 to play in the opening frame, Nate Meithof scored his first points of the night to spark a 15-1 Warrior run. Meithof, who tallied 24 points to lead the Warriors, returned to the court after missing Thursday’s game due to illness.
Following his layup, Meithof converted a four-point play after being fouled on a 3-point field goal. Cade Roth (22 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists), continued the run with a three of his own and Jalen Townsell (14 points, 6 rebounds) followed suit to make the score 23-19 in favor of the Warriors.
“Nate is leading the league in scoring,” said Boucher of his freshman guard. “To have him out there with Cade and Jared is a dynamic offensive trio. Nate played a complete game, shot the ball well and took good shots.
“The offensive flow started going. Menlo, statistically, is the best defensive team in the league. Without Nate, we were feeling that. Then Nate came in and made some really tough shots. I think Menlo was a little stunned by that and was a little bit on their heels. He changed the momentum of the game in the first half.”
The Oaks retook the lead at 27-25 on a jumper by Corey Le’aupepe (22 points, 8 rebounds), but the Warriors responded with a 14-0 run to go in front 39-27. Brown, Sebastian Reynoso (7 points, 4 rebounds), Tyler Austin (6 points, 5 rebounds), Roth and Meithof all contributed to the run.
At halftime, Westmont held a 41-32 advantage.
With 7:28 to play in the second half, Roth drained a shot from long distance to give Westmont a 66-56 lead. The Oaks, however, scored on four unanswered layups to pull within two (64-62) with 5:22 to play. Two minutes later, a three by LeBlanc tied the game at 68.
After Meithof and Le’aupepe traded layups, Roth put Westmont up by one (71-70) with 2:24 to go. Meithof pilfered the ball on the Oaks next possession, and Roth connected on his fourth 3-pointer of the game to give Westmont a 74-70 advantage. However, the Oaks’ Harrison Bonner (13 points) answered in kind, making it a one-point game (74-73).
Meithof missed a jumper on the Warriors’ ensuing possession, allowing LeBlanc a chance to give the Oaks the lead with 53 seconds to play. However, his shot bounced off the rim and was corralled by Roth. The senior forward quickly threw the ball up court to Townsell who was streaking toward the basket. Townsell collected the ball, then elevated and dunked the ball over LeBlanc to put Westmont up 76-73 with 46 seconds to play.
“With Ajay Singh out, Jalen stepped up and guarded bigger positions than he has been,” noted Boucher of the defensive effort of his 6-8 sophomore transfer from Sacramento State. “He was holding it down the middle of our two-three zone. I think Jalen has a much higher ceiling and that he isn’t close to it yet.”
On the Oaks’ next possession, Brown stole the ball from Patrick Ryan and was quickly fouled. Because it was only the Oaks’ sixth team foul, Westmont inbounded the ball to Roth, who was then fouled by Khalid Price with 17.7 seconds to play.
Roth missed the front end of the one-and-one and Menlo’s Parker Haven (21 points, 24 rebounds) collected the rebound.
The Oaks dribbled into the front court before coach Brendan Rooney called timeout with 6.5 seconds remaining. Upon the resumption of play, Bonner inbounded the ball across the court to Haven, who quickly passed it to LeBlanc beyond the arc. LeBlanc’s uncontested shot was on the mark, dropping through the net with three seconds remaining.
Brown quickly inbounded the ball to Roth who dribbled to midcourt before launching a would-be buzzer beater that hit the rim but bounced out.
“That was brutal,” said Boucher of the final minute. “It was hard to rally in overtime. Our guys fought through the feeling of disappointment and battled hard, but ultimately Menlo controlled overtime.
The Warriors never led in the five-minute bonus period, though they did tie the game at 83 apiece on a free throw by Kyler Warren (5 points, 4 rebounds) with 2:11 to play. Menlo, however, scored the next four points and made 12 of 13 free throws in the overtime period to keep the Warriors at bay and secure the win.
“There are games that you could have won and games that you should have won,” expressed Boucher. “I think this was a ‘should-have-won.’
“This season feels daunting because we have lost so many close games in the past month. However, our group, collectively, has a lot of room to improve. It feels like a long season, but we aren’t even half way through the league. So, I am proud of how our guys are battling. We are getting better and we are hoping to bounce back next week.”
The Warriors continue GSAC play next week with a road game at Life Pacific on Thursday evening and a home game against San Diego Christian on Saturday.
Ron Smith is the sports information director at Westmont College.