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Gorloks clinch conference championship
With the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title on the line, Webster University’s men’s basketball team closed out the regular season by blowing out Fontbonne University 75-48 on Feb. 22 in Clayton. The win gave Webster the SLIAC regular season championship and the rights to host the post-season tournament, which begins against Greenville College on Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. in the Grant Gymnasium.
The Gorloks controlled their own destiny in the race to win the conference regular season title, and needed wins at home versus Greenville College on Feb. 19 and at Fontbonne. Webster held the tiebreaker over contenders Westminster College and Spalding University, which came into play because all three teams finished the season with a 13-3 conference mark.
“It’s exciting for the guys to win the conference title,” said assistant coach Mike Siener. “It’s been a long year. The season is four and half months long, so the reward at the end is a great feeling.”
Siener said the Gorloks came out loose and focused against Fontbonne.
“I thought that was as well as we played in a few weeks,” Siener said. “We probably put together 30 really good minutes.”
Webster jumped out to a 17-7 lead as point guard Willie Trimble scored eight quick points. When Cody Bradfisch, who was named SLIAC player of the week for Feb. 14-20, knocked down a 3-pointer, the Gorloks led 26-12 with less than 10 minutes left in the half.
Webster took a 39-26 edge into halftime, and when Bradfisch opened the second half with another 3-pointer, the Gorloks were on their way to a lopsided win. Bradfisch led all scorers with 18 points and Trimble chipped in 15.
“Cody has come to life at a time when we really need him,” Siener said. “He’s coming in and knocking down shots, which relieves pressure off some of the other guys.”
It was an emotional night for the Griffins, as coach Lee McKinney stepped down after 23 years as Fontbonne’s men’s basketball coach. Health issues led to his resignation.
Webster’s win over the Griffins improved the team’s record to 13-3 in the SLIAC and 18-6 overall, and gave the team their first conference championship since the 2007-2008 season. The Gorloks will play Greenville for the third time this season when the teams face off in their post-season matchup on Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. in the Grant Gymnasium.
Webster dominated Greenville 68-50 on Feb. 19 in the Grant Gymnasium, which set up the season ending must-win game against Fontbonne. The Gorloks also defeated the Panthers the first time the teams played, 59-45.
The winner of the Webster-Greenville game will play Westminster, the No. 2 seed, or MacMurray College, the No. 3 seed, in the tournament championship game on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Grant Gymnasium. Westminster and MacMurray are slated to play their semifinal on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. in the Grant Gymnasium.
The team that wins the tournament will represent the SLIAC in the NCAA Division III tournament. Westminster won last year’s tournament, and the Blue Jays have knocked the Gorloks out of the tournament the last two seasons.
In Webster’s 18-point win over Greenville on Feb. 19, the Gorloks took control of the game early and never trailed the Panthers. The Gorloks’ five seniors were the team’s starters, but it was the underclassmen that shined in the win. Bradfisch hit all three of his 3-point attempts and poured in a team-best 15 points, 11 of which came in the first half.
Bradfisch’s big half helped the Gorloks build a comfortable 41-22 halftime lead. Greenville tried to mount a comeback in the second half, but the closest they would get was within 12 points with 17 minutes left in the game.
Trimble said hosting the post-season tournament will be advantageous for the Gorloks because of the hometown crowd.
“To host is pretty important because our fans have been behind us 100 percent the whole season,” Trimble said. “To be able to host and get more home games, it’s an advantage to us, and it’s also to show our fans we appreciate them.”
Webster coach Chris Bunch agreed that hosting the tournament will give the Gorloks an edge.
“I would generally say it’s really important,” Bunch said. “Although we’ve hosted it three times and never won, I think it helps. The last two years, the team that has hosted it has won it. It’s good for the players to get in their usual routine. They sleep in their own beds and eat the same food they’re usually eating.”
If the Gorloks continue to improve in some areas, Trimble said he believes the team can make a run in the NCAA tournament.
“As long as we play at our pace, rebound and play with effort on defense,” Trimble said, “I don’t think we’ll lose.”
– John Pohl also contributed to this report.