Westminster claims first-ever conference tournament title
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 12:06 a.m. MDT
By John Coon
Dramatic finishes and surviving down-to-the-wire games became Westminster's trademark in the first two rounds of the Frontier Conference men's basketball tournament. With a championship at stake, the Griffins finally reversed that trend in dominant fashion.
Westminster used a big first-half run to take control and coast to a 71-53 victory over Rocky Mountain College at Behnken Fieldhouse on Tuesday night to claim the school's first ever Frontier Conference tournament championship and an automatic berth into next week's NAIA Tournament.
After seeing earlier tournament victories over Montana Tech and Carroll College both come down to a final shot, the Griffins grew determined to start strong and finish strong against the Bears.
"We had to come out and set the tone for the game," reserve forward Danny Stosich said. "We knew if we played hard and we went at them really hard we'd win the game. That's how we set the tone and that's how we got it done."
It did not take Westminster long to create some distance for itself. After James Bulluck drained a 3-pointer to tie it at 12-12, the Griffins went on a 15-0 run to seize control of the game. Jeramie Hopson buried a 3-pointer to start the spurt. Stosich kept it going by making a series of big plays on both ends of the court.
Once he entered the game, Stosich crashed the boards, forced steals and make key baskets here and there to give the whole team a lift.
"His effort is phenomenal," Westminster coach Tommy Connor said, commenting on Stosich's performance. "He's just such a big part of our team. He struggled during a period of the year for us. But here, in this conference tournament, he put it together and was really terrific."
Defense also played a huge role in facilitating the early run. Westminster held the Bears without a field goal for nearly eight minutes.
It surprised Rocky Mountain, who is not used to seeing teams hold its offense in check. Coming into the championship game, the Bears led the conference in scoring with 78.9 points per game.
"That's what we focus on is our defense," Westminster senior guard Jordan Jacobs said. "We had a good game plan coming in and we executed it."
Rocky Mountain took advantage of a dry spell for the Griffins on offense to close the gap briefly in the second half.
After Westminster went ahead 43-27 on a jumper from Les Brown, the Bears used a 12-4 run to close to within 47-39 on Devin Uskoski's layup with 12:53 remaining. The Griffins put an end to any potential comeback, though, when Hopson and Jordan Jacobs each buried 3-pointers to help their team reclaim a 16 point lead at 57-41.
Geoff Payne scored a game-high 22 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to lead Westminster. Stosich chipped in another 15 points and seven boards.