Webster men’s basketball team 1-5 after win over Blue Jays and loss to Illinois Wesleyan
In the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference preseason coaches’ poll, the Westminster College men’s basketball team received five first-place votes and was selected the favorite to win the conference. The Gorloks earned one first-place nod and were picked fourth.
But when Webster University and Westminster met in the SLIAC season opener for both teams on Nov. 30 at Grant Gymnasium, the Gorloks sent a decisive message to the rest of the SLIAC. Webster never trailed in a 73-52 dismantling of the Blue Jays.
“It was a huge win,” sophomore center Jarrod Huskey said. “Any conference game you win is a good win, but especially against Westminster, who was picked preseason to be first in the conference. It helps us set a tone in the conference. Even though we were 0-4, we still have a good team and you can’t look past us.”
The game was a rematch of last year’s SLIAC tournament championship at Grant Gymnasium, which the Gorloks won 64-47. Webster has defeated Westminster in three of their previous four matchups, and at 1-0 in SLIAC play, the Gorloks now have an early leg up on their rival.
“We have a lot of new players on our team who didn’t really understand the rivalry as much as we did, but they still went out there and played just as hard as we did,” sophomore forward Stefan Whittingham said. “(Junior guard) Cody (Bradfisch) and Jarrod Huskey were really pumped before the game, knowing how important conference play is.”
Bradfisch and Huskey tweaked the Gorloks’ pregame music to see if that would help the team end its four-game losing skid to start the season. Whatever they played worked, as Webster jumped out to a 12-3 lead within the first four minutes of the game.
The Blue Jays cut Webster’s lead to 15-11, but that’s as close as they would get. Webster scored the next 12 points of the game to gain a 27-11 edge, and the Gorloks took a 42-22 lead into halftime.
Webster kept Westminster at bay in the second half, as the Gorloks never allowed the Blue Jays to creep within 12 points. Webster shot 52.6 percent from the field while Westminster made only 35.9 percent of its shot attempts.
“Westminster won a tough road game at Spalding (University) on Saturday, (Dec. 3), so I don’t know that we’re 20 points better than Westminster,” Webster coach Chris Bunch said. “They didn’t shoot it very well and didn’t play maybe as well as they can. That might have been a little bit misleading — the final margin. It was good to play well and get a win at home and kind of get that zero off that side of the ledger.”
Four Gorloks scored in double figures to lead a balanced attack. Whittingham recorded 17 points on 8 of 12 shooting and pulled down 12 rebounds for the double-double. Junior forward Roman Robinson scored 13 points and notched 11 rebounds for a double-double of his own.
Junior guard Dietrick Sooter had 12 points on 5 of 6 shooting and Huskey chipped in with 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Bunch said he was excited to play the Blue Jays because he felt they were the first team this season that didn’t have a big size advantage over the Gorloks. Webster outrebounded Westminster 40-33, which is only the second time the Gorloks have had an advantage on the boards all season.
Bunch tried to have his team enter the Westminster game on an even keel.
“If you don’t come in snorting fire at the beginning of every game, then sometimes that may tend to make your guys look around and feel, ‘Oh, this game is not as important as the last one,’” Bunch said. “I didn’t want to make too much of it just because you don’t want to get them all fired up for a game early in the year and then they lose and feel like the season’s over. Even if we lost that game, we could still win the conference.”
Gorloks blasted by Titans in nonconference tilt
Three days after the Gorloks’ 21-point win over Westminster, Webster fell back to earth in a 97-64 loss at Illinois Wesleyan University. That nonconference loss dropped Webster’s overall record to 1-5. Illinois Wesleyan is 5-2 overall.
The Titans grabbed a 20-5 lead less than seven minutes into the game and never trailed against the Gorloks. Webster cut the lead to 10 twice but couldn’t go on a big enough run to make a game out of it. After coming out of halftime with a 44-31 lead, Illinois Wesleyan went on a 27-9 run to put the game out of reach.
“I feel like we struggled a lot because we made a lot of bad decisions, we got a lot of turnovers and we weren’t playing as much as a team as we were when we played against Westminster,” Whittingham said. “We took a couple bad shots and it really led to them going on a run, which led to our downfall.”
Whittingham, who was named the SLIAC Player of the Week for his efforts against the Blue Jays and the Titans, had a team-high 17 points and six rebounds for the Gorloks. Robinson scored 11 points and freshman guard Ahmad Smith scored 10.
The Gorloks were beaten badly on the boards by a taller Titan team. Illinois Wesleyan had 48 rebounds to Webster’s 29. That disparity was partly due to the absence of Huskey, who missed the game because of a concussion he sustained at the end of the Westminster game.
Huskey said he has had a severe concussion before, but he believes his current concussion is of the mild variety. Huskey will definitely miss Webster’s Dec. 7 game at Washington University (5-2) at 8 p.m.
Bunch said it is also likely Huskey won’t play in the Gorloks’ games this weekend. Webster travels to Holly Springs, Miss., on Dec. 10 to take on Rust College. Webster hosts Austin College on Dec. 11 at 6 p.m. The Gorloks will then take a three-and-a-half-week break before playing Blackburn College on Jan. 4.