By John Pohl
For the first time this season, the Webster University men’s basketball team found out what it’s like being in first place and having a target on their back, as they eked out a 63-58 win at Eureka College on Jan. 29. The win kept Webster a half-game ahead of Spalding University for the conference lead.
“We can’t take anyone lightly,” said Webster coach Chris Bunch. “We really struggled (Jan. 25) against Principia and we did not play well at Eureka.”
Webster seemed to be cruising to another victory in the Eureka game, as they opened up a 34-19 halftime lead. Freshman guard Hollis Edwards came off the bench to score 11 points in the contest.
Webster built their biggest lead of the game in the early moments of the second half when senior forward Nick Jones hit a jumper and junior guard Willie Trimble made a layup to extend the lead to 38-19.
But the Red Devils, 0-10 in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and 1-17 overall, came storming back. Eureka connected on six of seven shots from the 3-point arc and cut the lead to 49-46.
“We were blowing the lead; they started making shots,” Trimble said. “We were in our zone defense when Eureka overloaded one side and then kicked back to the other and got some uncontested shots, which they knocked down.”
With just under eight minutes left, Trimble and Edwards put in consecutive layups and Webster’s lead was back to seven, 53-46.
Trimble, who led Webster in scoring with 17 points, dropped in two foul shots with 12 seconds left to ice the Gorloks’ 11th straight victory.
“We have to stick to our game plan,” Trimble said. “If we stick to our principles, we’ll be fine.”
Bunch said he likes what he has seen on defense from his team, but wants more consistency on offense as they come down the last stretch of league games before the conference tournament. “We have been attacking well on defense and taking care of the ball better,” Bunch said. “But we missed a lot of easy shots. We have to get better post production. At one point we were 2-16 down there. Not to call anyone out, but we have to do better.” The Gorloks have their sights set on winning the SLIAC regular season championship. If so, they will host the SLIAC tournament the last weekend of February. The tournament champion gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.
“We always felt, in our league, it was a big advantage to host the SLIAC tournament,” Bunch said. “You get to go through your normal routine at home. But of the last six teams that have hosted the tournament, only the last two actually won it. We lost three of those tournaments at home.”
If the Gorloks continue their winning ways, representing the SLIAC in the NCAA tournament is within reach.
“We don’t feel the pressure,” said senior forward Robbie Meeh. “We came into the season knowing we had a shot to have a pretty good season.”
Webster is now 14-4 overall on the season and 9-1 in the SLIAC. Their scheduled Feb. 1 game against NCAA Division II opponent Missouri University of Science and Technology was postponed due to weather. Webster returns home on Feb. 5 to face conference opponent MacMurray College, the only SLIAC team that has defeated the Gorloks.