The Westmont College men’s basketball team left campus a little before 8 a.m. Thursday to start the 2008-09 season in Las Vegas at the Robert Morris Tournament. The trip should have been filled with the excitement and anticipation of a new season. But less than nine hours later, flames swept over the Montecito campus, destroying nine buildings and another 15 faculty homes.

“Emotionally, it was very hard on the team and on the coaches to be away from campus when all of that was going on,” Westmont head coach John Moore said.

The Warrior coaching staff considered turning the vans around and heading home. Although there was no doubt emotional support for that idea, the fact was that the team would not have been allowed on campus by local law enforcement and there was nothing to be gained by cutting the trip short.

So the Warriors went about the business of preparing for their season opener against the College of Idaho (0-4); a team that defeated Westmont last season by a score of 67-79.

“We really didn’t know how they would respond,” Moore said. “But they responded very well!”

Junior forward Bobby Fenske and junior guard Matt LeDuc led the Warriors in scoring with 14 points each. Sophomore forward Dan Rasp added 13 more and senior guard Tyler Dutton posted 10 points. The Warriors also picked up eight points each from junior guard Andrew Schmalbach and junior forward John Miller. Junior point guard Chris Jackson notched six assists, five steals and six rebounds.

As pleased as Moore was with the offensive effort of his team, he was more excited about the Warriors’ defense.

“We held them to 35 percent shooting,” Moore said, “and we out-rebounded them by 10. With eight minutes to play in the game, we held a 60-35 lead. Though College of Idaho may not be as good a team as they were a year ago, in many ways they are more talented.”

Moore was able to put all eleven players on the floor with everyone playing a minimum of nine minutes.

Before the Warriors load back into the vans to head home, they will play one more game in Las Vegas, taking on Northwestern Oklahoma State at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Ron Smith is Westmont College‘s sports information director.