Since heading into winter break with a 1-8 overall record, the Webster University men’s basketball team has turned its season around by going 7-1. The team extended its winning streak to seven games with victories at Greenville College on Jan. 18 and Fontbonne University on Jan. 21.
The Gorloks had their seven-game winning streak come to an end in a loss at Lindenwood University on Jan. 23. All seven of Webster’s wins came against St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponents.
Webster is 8-0 in the SLIAC and 8-9 overall, with all nine losses coming against nonconference opponents. The difficult nonconference schedule has prepared Webster for SLIAC opponents, junior guard Cody Bradfisch said.
“The nonconference schedule, as tough as it was and as hard as it was, has made us better so far and it’s paying dividends now,” Bradfisch said.
Webster also has new players now comfortable in their roles, and the team is playing its best basketball of the season. The Gorloks displayed that in their 87-86 victory at Greenville (4-4 in SLIAC, 9-7 overall).
Webster was down 77-70 with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Gorloks cut the Panthers’ lead to one with 41 seconds left, but Greenville had the ball. Webster forced a turnover with 17 seconds left. With a chance to win the game, coach Chris Bunch called a timeout.
Bunch drew up a play for sophomore forward Stefan Whittingham, who has emerged as one of the team’s go-to players. Whittingham drove to the basket and missed his first attempt. He got his own rebound and made a layup to give Webster a one-point lead with seven seconds left.
“That was one of those times where they maybe had a little bit of a slower guy on Stefan,” Bunch said. “So instead of putting one of our guards out there that had a quick guard on them, we were able to throw it to Stefan. He was a little bit quicker than the guy who was guarding him. He was able to get by him and get to the basket.”
The Whittingham basket was the game-winner. Greenville missed a shot at the buzzer to preserve the 87-86 victory for Webster.
“Coach Bunch decided to give me the ball on the wing and told me to make a play, and I made the play,” Whittingham said.
Whittingham recorded a double-double against the Panthers with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Bradfisch finished with 18 points and six rebounds and junior forward Roman Robinson scored a team-high 19 points.
“(The win) was big,” Bunch said. “It kind of showed the guys you just got to keep banging away at it for 40 minutes. When we look back at the end of the year, if we win the conference, that’ll be one of the ones we’d say was an important one to have.”
Webster continued its hot streak with an 84-69 win at Fontbonne (2-6 in SLIAC, 3-13 overall). Robinson once again led the team in points with 19. Whittingham had 14 points and nine rebounds. Freshman guard Danny Zehner scored 12 points in only 13 minutes off the bench.
Lindenwood ended Webster’s seven game-winning streak on Monday night, as the Lions defeated the Gorloks 78-57. Robinson led the Gorloks with 15 points and four steals. Whittingham had 10 points and eight rebounds. Zehner scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Webster was able to even its record at .500 after the victory at Fontbonne, but the loss at Lindenwood drops the Gorloks’ overall record to 8-9.
The loss against Lindenwood is Webster’s first since losing to Austin College on Dec. 11.
“We came back and won the first couple of games after the start of the new year,” Bunch said. “I think that gave them some confidence to realize this is what the tough nonconference games prepared us for.
“I think they’re playing with more confidence now. You got to credit the guys. They hung in there. It’s tough to do sometimes when you get off to a tough start like that. They’ve done a good job so far, so hopefully we can just keep it going the second half of the season.”
The Gorloks look to remain undefeated in the SLIAC when they travel to Blackburn College (2-7 in SLIAC, 5-13 overall) on Jan. 28. The Gorloks have a game at Westminster College (4-4 in SLIAC, 8-9 overall) on Feb. 1 before returning home to host second-place Eureka College (7-2 in SLIAC, 10-7 overall) on Feb. 4.
Video by Sam Masterson.