Men earn bid to NCAA D-III tourney
The Gorloks earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament with the victory. It will be Webster’s first trip to the national tournament since 2002. In the first round, the men will face Augustana College on March 4 at 7:30 p.m. on Augustana’s home court in Rock Island, Illinois.
It will be no small task to get by Augustana in the first of the tournament. The Vikings are champions of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin. They finished 11-3 in the conference and own a 24-3 record overall.
They are the No. 1 team in their region and are ranked sixth nationally.
Westminster ended Webster’s season the last two years by beating the Gorloks in the SLIAC tournament: 87-69 last year and 96-91 in 2009.
“It feels amazing; it’s a lot of redemption and a lot of revenge because of what they did to us last year,” said senior forward Drew Moore. “It feels good to get to the NCAA tournament.”
With just more than 11 minutes left in the game, the Gorloks trailed 42-39. But Webster went on a 17-0 run to take control of the game.
“It’s kind of hard to keep believing in the zone defense, but we finally got them out of what they were doing,” said Webster coach Chris Bunch. “We got a little luck because they missed some shots, but we did a better job of covering them in the second half.”
Bunch didn’t realize they had done so well defensively. One of his assistants had to remind him that the Gorloks held the Blue Jays scoreless for more than10 minutes.
“We picked it up defensively — that was the difference — and we got active in our zone,” said senior forward Robbie Meeh. “We got some steals and easy buckets.”
Moore said the keys were the Gorloks’ intensity and energy.
“We were all over the place,” Moore said. “That’s the way we have to play all the time. We made it harder for them to go inside, so they started to settle for three’s.”
In the second half, the Gorloks’ defensive pressure picked up. Webster out-rebounded Westminster by 11 in the second half. Senior forward Nick Jones led the Gorloks with 10 rebounds.
“In the first half, they got several offense rebounds and put backs,” Bunch said. “In the second, they’d miss and we’d be there for the long rebound. We went and got it.”
Junior point guard Willie Trimble, who averaged 21 points per game in the tournament, was named the tourney’s Most Valuable Player. Meeh made the All-Tournament team as well.
“A couple of guys who really sparked us off the bench were Robbie Meeh and (freshman guard) Hollis Edwards,” Bunch said. “Meeh got some tough rebounds and made a couple of big shots and Edwards got two or three steals and made a couple of drives for layups; he gave us a little pace and a big lift when he came into the game.”
With Webster leading 56-42 with just over two minutes left, Trimble made 5-6 foul shots down the stretch to wrap up the SLIAC tournament championship.
On Feb. 25, in Webster’s semifinal against Greenville College, the Gorloks led from start to finish in a 78-61 blowout. Trimble finished with a season-high 29 points, was 5-6 from the 3-point line, and had five steals.
Sophomore guard Cody Bradfisch scored 15 points, hitting 3-5 shots from beyond the 3-point line. The win against Greenville set up the third game between Webster and the Blue Jays this season. They split the previous two games, as each team won on their home court. With a trip to the NCAA Division lll tournament on the line, the Gorloks would not be denied.
“This is a reflection of the work, sacrifice and passion our coaches, students and players have made for not only the sport they play, but the school they attend,” said Athletics Director Tom Hart. “The effort and preparation is what made the difference. All that work crystallized on the floor, and then the joy and emotion we were very fortunate to see.”
Bradfisch said all the time and effort the team put forth to capture the university’s first SLIAC men’s basketball tournament title was worth it.
“It’s everything we’ve worked for since Oct. 15, when we first started, and it’s a culmination of all the hard work and practice we put in,” Bradfisch said. “It’s amazing; it’s indescribable.”
Webster improved to 20-6 on the season, which matches the highest win total in team history — Webster’s 2007-2008 squad also got to 20 wins.