Westmont held off Antelope Valley, 80-73, in a nonconference men’s basketball game to continue its unbeaten start to the season.
The NAIA 11th-ranked Warriors had a 15-point lead cut to one in the second half of Tuesday night’s game at Murchison Gym.
“This one I had marked on our calendar as one of the really difficult games for us,” said coach John Moore. “You hate going into Christmas with a loss. I wanted to make sure we did everything we could to have Santa bring some presents under the tree for the guys.”
The Warriors enter the holiday season in festive spirits after improving to 12-0 on the year, something Moore believes should be celebrated.
“Part of what you need to do in the season is celebrate the moments,” said Moore. “When you get a break, you get to celebrate what you’ve done so far. They get to relish some of the things that have happened thus far in the season.”
Moore said the players will get 10 days off for Christmas until returning to campus on Dec. 28 in preparation for the 44th Annual Tom Byron Classic, which begins on Dec. 30.
Westmont led at the break 35-20 after limiting Antelope Valley to 28% shooting from the field, including 1 for 12 (8.3%) from 3-point range. The 20 points are the fewest they have given up in any half in the past 56 games, since they conceded 20 points in the second half against San Diego Christian on Jan. 11, 2018.
“Coach Azain and Coach Boucher deserve all the credit,” said Moore. “Landon Boucher has done exhaustive work with our scouting reports and our preparation for teams like this and it paid off, especially in the first half.”
Justin Bessard opened up the second half with a three-point play, giving the Warriors their largest lead of the game (18). The team’s leading scorer on the season scored nine points in the first half and matched that total in the first five minutes of the second half.
The Pioneers then got their offense going by draining six triples in the first 10 minutes of the second half after making just one 3-pointer in the entire first half, helping them reduce their deficit to one with 9:41 remaining.
Hunter Sipe stopped Antelope Valley’s momentum after hitting from behind the arc and collecting two offensive rebounds that led to 3-pointers by Brown and Abram Carrasco, putting the Warriors back up by double digits, 68-58.
“Hunter just makes big plays,” said Moore. “He got a big rebound when it seemed like we couldn’t get one. Then he hit the corner three that got us back up by four.”
The Pioneers didn’t go away though, getting back to within five with 5:34 to play. But Carrasco put his defender in the spin cycle on his way to finishing at the basket before Bessard added to his tally with another bucket in the paint.
Antelope Valley got no closer than five the rest of the way, as Westmont held on for a seven-point victory.
It was the Warriors’ first victory over the Pioneers in three tries after losing to them twice in the 2017-18 season.
“One of our better teams lost to this team,” said Moore. “That’s the part that tells you this team just elevated itself.”
Bessard led all scorers with 22 points, his third game this season scoring more than 20 points.
Carrasco added 18 points, while Sipe just missed out on a double-double with 11 points and eight rebounds. Brown was the fourth Warrior in double figures with 10 points. Cade Roth led the team with nine rebounds and five assists.
Westmont next hosts the Tom Byron Classic at the end of the month, when the Warriors will take on Calgary (Alta.) on Dec. 30 at 6:30 p.m. before playing against Park (Ariz.) on Dec. 31 at 1:00 p.m.