COSTA MESA — With a win over the Vanguard Lions on Thursday night, Westmont Men’s Basketball (14-10, 7-8 GSAC) moved into a tie for the sixth and final spot in the GSAC Tournament.
After the Warriors defeated the Lions (12-11, 6-9) 96-90 in overtime, Westmont was met with news that the Menlo Oaks had also lost. Now, with three games remaining in the GSAC regular season, both Westmont and Menlo have identical records of 7-8 in conference play.
While the Oaks currently own the tiebreaker over the Warriors, the two are set to meet again next Thursday night in Santa Barbara. After a roller coaster of a regular season, Thursday’s win allows the Warriors to control their own destiny from here on out.
“We were so mentally tough tonight,” said Westmont head coach Landon Boucher. “To beat a good team like Vanguard, on the road in overtime, it’s hard not to be electric in the locker room afterwards. Especially the situation that we’re in, where we’re both trying to get in, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
“To win in that fashion makes this long drive back feel pretty good. We’re going to enjoy this one, and then as soon as we wake up tomorrow, we’ll get ready for Life.”
Tonight’s game was seemingly a must-win for both sides, as the Warriors and the Lions both began the night one back of the sixth-place Oaks. While Vanguard came out of the gate hot, jumping out to a 15-4 advantage, the Warriors rolled the punches and got back into the game soon-after.
By halftime the Warriors cut the deficit to six, and at the 14:25 mark in the second, the Warriors got over the hump to take a momentary 46-45 lead. Neither Westmont nor Vanguard got comfortable in the second half, as Westmont’s first control of the lead was the first of six lead changes down the stretch.
The two sides stayed neck-and-neck through regulation and by the end of the 40th minute, neither team got a clean look at a game-winner. In overtime the Lions opened up with a made jumper and a knocked-down three in their first two possessions, but this time, the Warriors would not be denied.
“When you’re up late in regulation and it goes to overtime, you face major adversity,” said Boucher. “You face an emotional adversity, but still, we rallied.”
With 2:38 left to play in overtime the Warriors trailed by two, and then, Anthony McIntyre made the two biggest plays of Westmont’s season. First, after Cade Roth missed a potential game-tying basket, McIntyre leaped above the crowd in the paint and acrobatically tipped in a game-tying basket.
Then, following a Vanguard timeout with under two minutes to play, McIntyre swiped a steal off a Vanguard inbound and took it all the way to the other end for a momentum-shifting go-ahead layup. From that point on, the Warriors never trailed again.
“Anthony made two of the biggest plays all year,” assured Boucher. “That tip-in was massive, and then that steal for the layup was crucial. Both those plays showed a refusing to give up mentality. He just showed a ton of heart out there.”
In the final 90 seconds of overtime the Warriors converted six of six shots from the free throw line, which made all the difference by the end in an eventual 96-90 victory. At night’s end the Warriors collectively made 23 of 26 from the free throw line, with Roth leading the pack with a line of seven for seven from the stripe.
“That game was absolutely won at the free throw line,” offered Boucher. “That’s mental toughness right there. That’s refusing to give up and taking the points that are in front of us. In the second half we shot 18 of 25 from the field.
“We were refusing to take okay or even good shots. We kept on moving the ball until we found great shots.”
Westmont had seven different scorers in double-figures, with Tone Patton Sr. leading the way with a team-high 17 points. Behind Patton, Cly Griffith Jr. scored 16 off the bench, McIntyre and Roth both contributed with 14, and Amir Davis added 13 as well.
“Cly came into the game at a crucial moment,” added Boucher. “We were lacking offense before he came on, and then he just got us rolling. He just got layups and got great shots for himself and for those around him.”
Rounding out Westmont’s double-digit scorers were Drew Ramirez with 10 points, and Jalen Townsell with 12. While Townsell played only 13 minutes, he made all four of his field goal attempts, two shots from beyond the arc, and two shots from the charity stripe.
“Jalen played less than usual, began Boucher, “but those 13 minutes were some of the most effective 13 minutes he’s played in a long time. He banged two threes and two dunks, and his three in the corner in the second half was huge.
“If you’re going to win road games in this league you need several guys to make big plays. Tonight, our guys made them.”
Westmont’s next step in their playoff hunt is a game in San Dimas on Saturday night, when they tip-off against Life Pacific at 7:30 p.m. Links to live coverage are available on the Westmont Athletics website.