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Press releaseSALT LAKE CITY - The Westminster men's basketball team won its second consecutive Frontier Conference Tournament championship thanks to a 76-68 win over No. 22 Montana Western (24-9) on Monday night in the Behnken Field House. No. 4 Westminster (26-5) picks up a 13th straight victory and claims an automatic invite to the 2010 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship.
"This was a great game," head coach Tommy Connor said. "They are a very good team that is hard to guard and we gave a great effort."
The first half was played fairly even with neither team opening up more than a five point lead through the first 17 minutes. Montana Western had a mini 5-0 run late in the half and led 30-22 at the 1:18 mark. When Tanner Gregory hit a 15-footer as time expired to end the half, Westminster trailed 30-24 entering the intermission.
The second half was more of the same as there were four ties and five lead changes in the final 20 minutes. The Griffins used a 13-5 run midway through the half to turn a seven point deficit into a one point lead with 7:19 remaining. Western briefly took the lead on its next possession only to see Westminster go on a 10-3 run and put the game away. Westminster went 8-of-9 at the foul line down the stretch to secure the championship.
"We got it going there for a five minute stretch in the second half," said Connor.
The six point halftime deficit and eight point overall deficit were the biggest Westminster had come back from in a game this season. This was just the third time the Griffins have even trailed at halftime this season and the second time they have rallied to win.
Westminster finished the game shooting 47.3% from the field after going just 9-of-26 (34.6%) in the first stanza. The Griffins took advantage of 12 offensive rebounds to score 18 second chance points while scoring 32 points in the paint. They only had 10 turnovers while dishing out 14 assists.
On the defensive end the Griffins held Western to 47.1% shooting and forced 16 turnovers. Westminster picked up 12 steals and had 25 points off turnovers and seven fast break points. Three of those fast break points came on a Blair Prowse three from the left wing to put Westminster up eight with 3:07 to play.
Ben Walker came up with a game-high 25 points with 18 coming after the break. Walker scored 78 points during the three games of the tournament to lead all scorers. Tonight he added six rebounds and three blocked shots and was a perfect 9-of-9 at the foul line.
Conner Nielsen and Michael Stockton each had 10 points. Stockton added four assists and three steals while shooting 3-of-4 from the field and 4-of-4 at the charity stripe. Weston Anderson finished with nine points, five rebounds, and four assists. Jeramie Hopson added eight points and seven rebounds, including four offensive boards. One of his offensive boards came on a tip-in with 5:25 to play that put the Griffins ahead for the final time.
"Jeramie had the big tip-in and Conner hit a big shot for us," Connor said of his seniors. "We had guys that they dared to shoot step up and make shots."
Brandon Brown led five Western players in double figures with 13 points. Brandon Lawson and Terry Hauser each scored 11 with Garret Fink and JaRon Brown finishing with 10 apiece. The Bulldogs went 9-of-22 from beyond the arc and grabbed 31 rebounds.
"I am really happy for this group of guys," Connor said of the team. "We started the year 3-4 and have now won 23-of-24 which is a great effort by this team."
Westminster now waits to see who they will face in the opening round of the NAIA National Tournament. The bracket will be announced on Wednesday, March 10 at 2 p.m. MT and will be broadcast live on collegefanz.com. The tournament begins on Wednesday, March 17 with half of the opening round games. The remaining opening round games will be played on Thursday, March 18. All 31 games of the tournament will be played at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri.
(Courtesy Westminster College)