The Webster University men’s basketball season came to a shocking end in the semifinals of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament on Feb. 23. The No. 1-seeded Gorloks were upset by No. 4-seeded MacMurray College 68-62 after a second-half collapse by Webster.
Leading 37-26 at halftime, Webster increased its lead to 13 points midway through the second half. But that’s when it all began to unravel for the Gorloks. MacMurray went on a 28-7 run to take a 64-56 lead with 2 minutes remaining.
Webster made a pair of desperation 3-pointers in the final minutes and was forced to foul MacMurray. The Highlanders made their free throws to clinch the six-point victory. MacMurray outscored Webster 42-25 in the second half.
“After beating that team twice, having them at our home floor and everything going well for the first 35 minutes, having it end like that is pretty disappointing,” junior guard Cody Bradfisch said. “It was pretty humbling.”
Poor shooting doomed Webster. In the second half, Webster shot 29 percent from the field compared to 65.2 percent by MacMurray.
“We just didn’t make shots,” Webster coach Chris Bunch said. “Cody (Bradfisch) and (sophomore forward) Stefan (Whittingham) have shot it well all year. Cody was a little bit hurt and he missed some shots. Stefan missed some shots. (Sophomore guard) Hollis (Edwards) missed a 3.
“Up at MacMurray a week earlier, those three guys were the very guys who made shots that put us over the top. I’m not blaming any one person because it wasn’t any one person’s fault, but they took essentially the same shots they took last Saturday that they made.”
Whittingham, who was honored as SLIAC Player of the Year before the game, was 3 of 15 from the field, recording nine points and six rebounds. Bradfisch was 1 of 7 shooting and scored three points, while Edwards was 2 of 7 for five points.
“We just struggled there at the end to get anything going offensively,” Bradfisch said. “They beat us fair and square. I don’t want to take anything away from them.”
Webster’s shooting struggles helped MacMurray continue its second-half run.
“When a team is making a run at you, (if) you can score some points and kind of stop the run a little bit, then you can be where you want to be,” Bunch said. “They were just scoring every trip down the court, and then we were coming down and turning it over or missing a shot.
“The wave gets so much bigger because you’re not scoring some to stem the tide. That gave them added confidence to go down on the other end, and they ripped off a run of scoring opportunities.”
The Highlanders were able to keep the momentum during their scoring spree with the support of MacMurray fans who made the trip from Jacksonville, Ill. The MacMurray student section was on its feet behind the Highlanders’ bench the entire game.
“They’ve had good crowds all year,” Bunch said. “Their coach has a lot of energy and their crowd feeds off that energy a little bit. It’s like we were almost playing a road game.”
Junior guard Roman Robinson and freshman guard Ahmad Smith were the two bright spots for Webster. Robinson was 7 of 13 from the field for 16 points, while Smith shot 4 of 6 for 11 points.
MacMurray freshman center Clayton Whitlock, the SLIAC Newcomer of the Year, led all scorers with 22 points on 10 of 12 shooting. Whitlock helped the Highlanders advance to the championship game against Westminster College, where they lost to Westminster 58-56 on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Westminster’s Joe James.
The loss to MacMurray will resonate with the Gorloks until next season.
“This one hurts, and it’s going to hurt for a while,” Bradfisch said. “I guess I have five or six months before I can start thinking about next year.”
The Gorloks should field another competitive team next season, since they have no players leaving due to graduation.
“There are three or four (SLIAC) teams besides us who have almost everyone returning,” Bunch said. “Everybody just assumes, ‘Well, you’re a year older, you’re going to be better.’ It doesn’t work that way. They have to make sure they individually work on their games.
“I’ve got to make sure we do some things better. I’ve got to make sure we bring in some more players who can help us be better than we were this year. We all have things we need to do in the offseason to make sure next year maybe we can put ourselves in the position again and do a better job of closing it out.”