In an instant classic, Westmont Men’s Basketball (7-1, 1-0 GSAC) upset #1 Arizona Christian (4-1, 0-1) in overtime to open up the GSAC season. After the first 40 minutes was not enough to crown a victor, the Warriors erupted to outscore the Firestorm 22-9 in overtime, allowing the home team to steal an early headline in the conference season.
“It’s been a while since the number one team in the nation played in The Murch,” reflected Westmont head coach Landon Boucher. “We came into tonight very loose, very confident. Our guys came in ready to go. Not only did they come ready to play hard, but they came ready to play smart, and with poise.
“We did a great job of handling those moments where it could go either way, and we made the big plays when it mattered most.”
In the first half of action, Westmont held the first bit of momentum thanks to both stellar defense and cold shooting from ACU. At the 10:00 mark, the Firestorm had scored only 11 points, when at the same time, Amir Davis converted a layup to put Westmont up 22-11.
With 7:30 to play in the period, another finish at the rim by Davis put Westmont up 27-14, their largest lead of the half. Then, Arizona Christian began to shoot like the top-ranked team in the NAIA.
After missing their first six shots from beyond the arc, ACU drained five of their next seven, including four sorely out of the hands of Paul Hayden. After trailing by 13 at the 7:30 mark, it took the Firestorm less than three full minutes to go on a 15-2 run, tying the game at 29.
The Firestorm cooled down once again as the half came to a close, but still led Westmont 38-36 going into intermission. In the second half, ACU looked to be pulling away after hitting a 3-pointer that stretched their lead to 44-38 at the 16:34 mark.
However, the Firestorm did not score another point for seven minutes. In the meantime, Westmont did not set the scoreboard on fire either, but still, the Warriors’ lock-down defense allowed them several opportunities to draw even. Finally, with just-under 10 minutes to play, a layup from Cly Griffith knotted things at 44.
The two sides stayed neck-and-neck for the next several minutes, with both teams having a four point lead at one point. First, ACU led 59-55 with four minutes to play, before a pair of highlight-reel baskets by Cade Roth sparked an 8-0 run by Westmont. Up 63-59 with under two minutes to play, the Warriors were unable to hold off the Firestorm, who eventually converted a game-tying layup with 18 seconds to play.
Griffith had a look at a contested layup at the buzzer, but the shot would not fall, as the game proved to be destined for overtime. Then, in overtime, the Warriors put their stamp on the contest.
Thirty seconds into overtime the Warriors forced an ACU turnover in the paint, leading to a go-ahead layup by Westmont’s Tone Patton Sr. After a steal from Anthony McIntyre, the Warriors put the ball in Patton’s hands again. On this occasion, in his Murchison Gym debut, Patton blew the roof off the place by draining a shot from beyond the arc to put Westmont up five.
After a third ACU turnover, the gym only grew louder when a fast-break layup from McIntyre sent a shocked Firestorm squad into a timeout. At that point, Westmont had built their lead to 70-63 less than 90 seconds into overtime.
“What I was most proud of, was how they handled coming out of regulation,” said Boucher. “We were up four with less than two minutes to go, and then in the end Cly got a great look and just missed it, which happens. Teams that are new often collapse coming into a huddle after that.
“What I saw when guys got to the bench was that they were locked in and ready to get back on the floor. The look on their faces said we were moving on with a next-play mentality. With that, that first minute of overtime was an avalanche.”
With 2:46 to play in OT the Firestorm got back within three to make it a one possession game, but then, Westmont brought an end to the contest with a 10-0 run going into the final minute.
During the run Patton scored another pair and McIntyre poured in a three, but inserting the final dagger was the fifth-year Roth, who put Westmont up 80-67 with 51 seconds remaining. A minute later, the upset was complete.
“Cade Roth played a special game tonight,” assured Boucher. “He played like a fifth-year senior and made some of the biggest plays of the night. In regulation he hit that buzzer-beating three as the shot clock expired, and it kept us alive.
“Then in overtime, when he hit that three in the corner, that was the back-breaker. For me, being around Cade for five years, seeing him have this type of night against the top-team in the country is really satisfying.”
McIntyre led Westmont with 21 points, while Roth was close behind with 20. Davis, who had 18 points, finished with a near triple-double as he also recorded a team-high 12 rebounds and seven assists. In his home debut, Patton contributed with 17 points off the bench to go along with four rebounds.
“In terms of toughness, Tone was the difference maker,” noted Boucher. “Whether it was inside, defense, rebounding, you name it- Tone set the standard for us. I was really happy with our team defense tonight. ACU has one of the toughest offenses to guard in this whole country, and our team went to work.
“We’re happy, but we’re not satisfied. We’re excited to get after it on Saturday.”
Westmont returns to GSAC play this afternoon when they host Ottawa (Ariz.) at 2 p.m.
Jacob Norling is the sports information assistant at Westmont College.