After losing nine consecutive games to The Master’s Mustangs (4-1, 0-1 GSAC) over the past five years, the Westmont men’s basketball team (7-0, 1-0 GSAC) finally got back in the win column on Saturday night.
After a slow first half, the still-undefeated Warriors exploded in the second half to claim their GSAC opener by a score of 78-66 at the Montecito college’s home court.
“To be honest, I’ve been looking forward to this day for the past couple years,” said Westmont’s captain Cade Roth, one of the club’s two seniors who have spent their entire careers at Westmont. “My freshman year, they were a lot better than us. My sophomore year, we knew we could beat them, and we just didn’t. Then of course last year, we didn’t get to play them.
“To beat them now, with a new squad that hadn’t played in one of these games yet, just feels so good, especially for guys like me, Tyler Austin, and Jared Brown, who have had this marked on their calendar for a long time.”
“Kelvin Starr (The Master’s head coach) has done a great job since taking over that program,” said Westmont head coach Landon Boucher. “He has those guys playing really hard. They’re a hard club to beat because they are so confident and play so free.
“Ultimately, I am just so proud of our guys to be down at half, after our worst offensive half of the year, and turn it around for a gritty win.”
Jalen Townsell and Jared Brown both led the scoring for Westmont with 21 points each. Townsell led the club with a trio of 3-pointers, including a pair during the club’s most crucial run of the night. Brown shot eight of 10 from the free throw line, and also came away with a game-high seven steals.
Roth and Nate Meithof both led the Warriors with four assists.
“As gritty as Jalen was on every inch of the court,” began Boucher, “it was those couple of threes he hit early in the second half that got us the lead and ultimately got us rolling. Nate Meithof also had a really big second half. He made some plays around the basket that were incredible.
“Also, Cade found some matchups in the second half where he was getting himself points, but overall he was making everything happen on offense.”
In the first half, The Master’s Jordan Starr hit a jumper with 4:05 left that put the Mustangs up 29-17. It turned out to be their largest lead of the night. Going into halftime, Westmont trailed 34-26, after shooting just 37% from the field (10-27). On the other side of things, Master’s had shot 48.1% from the field (13-27) and 42.9% from three-point range (6-14).
“There really wasn’t any ‘x’s and o’s’ decision that we changed at halftime,” said Boucher. “It was more of asking the guys to step up to the challenge and believe in each other.”
With 15:49 left to play, Master’s Caden Starr drained a 3-pointer that put the Mustangs ahead 40-32, while a frustrated Westmont offense had yet to find their rhythm. Then, Townsell converted a layup that sparked Westmont’s game-winning run.
Townsell followed up his layup with a 3-pointer, which was then followed up by layups from Roth and Nate Meithof. With 12:24 to play, Ajay Singh brought Murchison Gym to its feet with a layup that gave Westmont their first lead of the night at 43-42.
With 8:13 left on the clock, The Master’s had reclaimed a 52-48 advantage, but layups from Singh and Meithof (who then converted a free throw following a foul) put Westmont on top 53-52. The Warriors would never trail again.
With 5:40 left to play, the home crowd began to anticipate victory when Townsell threw down a dunk to give Westmont their first five-point advantage of the game. Townsell then scored four of Westmont’s next six points to help the Warriors stretch their lead to double-digits for the first time all night.
Westmont ultimately held The Master’s to a 27% clip from the field in the second half, and when the final buzzer sounded, the home crowd rushed the floor to celebrate with their team. Leading the celebration was the senior Austin, who sprinted into the locker room while roaring to the sky, after defeating The Master’s for the first time in his career.
“The Master’s has dominated this league since Kelvin’s been here (2016),” offered Boucher. “It’s always fun to have a comeback win in front of a packed crowd. I think the first time having a crowd like that in a really long time made it a lot of fun for our guys.”
The club returns to action next Tuesday when they take on Saint Katherine down in Hope International on Tuesday. Then, the club travels to Glendale on December 4, where they will take on #4 Arizona Christian in their second GSAC game.
Jacob Norling is the sports information assistant at Westmont College.