Staying ahead throughout the second half, the Westminster basketball Wildcats (9-4) were able to hold off Washington (7-6) in the championship game of the Blue Jays’ own tournament Monday and won, 71-63.
The Blue Jays trailed by 10 points at halftime after Westminster senior Steve Webb, the tournament MVP, banked in a three-pointer at the second quarter buzzer. Washington cut the Wildcats’ lead to three points in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t get it any closer.
“You have to love the effort by our kids,” said Washington Head Coach Grant Young. “We dug us a hole there down 10, but our kids were able to bring it back to three, which was great. Webb hits a bank three at the end of the half to give them momentum. He’s only made three threes on the season. I thought our kids did a good job in the second half holding him to seven points.”
Despite the loss in the Blue Jays’ first appearance in their own tournament championship since 2014, Young was encouraged by his team’s play both against Westminster and throughout the entire tournament.
“It proved we’re capable of beating a tough team,” he said. “We played three really tough teams and got two wins. We can play and win against tough competition. Them seeing that, maybe that can show them that we can play and beat anybody if we put our minds and hearts to it. This is something that needs to propel us since we’re the No. 1 seed going into the Union Tournament next week.”
The teams traded blows throughout the entire game, but Westminster countered every Washington punch.
The Wildcats led 15-11 through the first quarter, but the Blue Jays started the second quarter on a 6-0 run to take the lead. It was short-lived, however, as Westminster senior Cliff DeGroot drained a three to put Westminster back up 18-17 on the ensuing possession.
The Wildcats pushed their lead back up to 10 points with 30 seconds left, but Washington senior Cason Suggs scored while getting fouled with 4.1 seconds left in the half. Suggs’ free throw capped off his 16-point first half and made it 32-25, until Webb banked in the three-pointer to push the lead back to 10. Westminster outscored Washington 20-14 in the second quarter.
The Blue Jays had their best quarter in the third, outscoring the Wildcats 19-14. But Westminster senior Dyllan Conway hit a buzzer beater at the end of the quarter, pushing the score to 49-44.
The Wildcats went back up eight early in the fourth, but Washington cut it to three after a three-pointer by junior Conlan Jarvis and a pair of free throws by freshman Dayton Turner. But once again, Westminster stopped the run, as DeGroot hit a three-point bomb from more than five feet behind the arc.
“Closeouts hurt us on shooters,” Young said. “That’s our key every game. DeGroot’s a good shooter, he hit shots at inopportune times against us when they needed a big shot. They hit more shots than us, and that was the big kicker. They hit them at inopportune times, whenever we would go on runs they would go on one of their own.”
Cason Suggs led all scorers with 25 points for the Blue Jays, earning a spot on the all-tournament team.
“What can you say about Suggs?” Young said. “He did it on the offensive glass, with his post-up moves, hitting his free throws.”
Jarvis scored 17 points, sinking a pair of three-pointers. Jarvis also was named to the all-tournament team.
“Jarvis had two points in the first half and really took charge and took control of the floor,” Young said.
Young said both Suggs and Jarvis led the Blue Jays on both sides of the court throughout the tournament.
“I’m proud of both of those kids because they both work extremely hard,” Young said. “Conlan, coming off some injuries in soccer season, he started slow with his knee injuries. What they’re doing, not just offensively putting points on the board, but leading us defensively. Cason inside rebounding and boxing out, Conlan guarding their top guards and putting pressure on our opponents, they don’t just do it on one end of the court.”
Junior Zach Harms put in 14 points for Washington with four three-pointers.
Freshman Dayton Turner totaled five points for the Blue Jays.
Senior Austin Lewis scored two points.
The Wildcats were led by Webb. The senior guard put in 22 points.
DeGroot scored 18 points, knocking down six three-pointers. DeGroot was selected for the all-tournament team.
Conway scored 11 points for Westminster.
Senior DJ Stewart was the Wildcats’ fourth player to reach double figures, putting in 10 points.
Junior Michael Thoenen added four points.
Junior Dom Cusamano had three points.
Junior Levi Alldredge scored two points.
Senior Wes Schad finished with one.
Now the Blue Jays are focused on building off their success at the Washington Tournament and taking it into conference play and the Union Tournament next week.
“Keeping something like this rolling is going to be very tough because we’re five weeks out from districts,” Young said. “But it’s going to have to come from the kids, not the coaches. They got a little taste of success here over the last three games with some big wins. But if they want to keep it up, they have to do that every day at practice and have that focus every night on the floor. I know our kids can do it because they’re feeding off this right now and it’s going to keep growing. If we can do this all season, with all the pieces and not just two or three guys, it will be a fun second half of the season.”
The Blue Jays face GAC Central foe Ft. Zumwalt South (7-8, 1-1) on the road Tuesday at 7 p.m.