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Webster men’s basketball team advances to NCAA Tournament
The locker room of the Webster University men’s basketball team on Feb. 15 was not filled with happy players. Spalding University had just handed the Gorloks an 81-73 loss, ending their five-game winning streak and paying them back for the upset loss Webster delivered to them almost three weeks prior.
The setting for the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) championship game on March 1 was similar to the Feb. 15 game. Once again, Webster rode a winning streak heading into the game against Spalding on the Golden Eagles’ home court in Louisville, Ky. This time however, the outcome was different. Webster defeated Spalding 55-51 to advance to the NCAA III Tournament.
With 11 seconds left, freshman guard Adam Etter was fouled but missed his free throw. Spalding recovered the rebound and advanced to Webster’s end of the court. As the clock ticked down to two seconds, Thomas Blakemore shot the ball from the three-point line to tie the game, but missed.
Kevin Miller was there to collect the rebound and seal Webster’s championship win and revenge.
Sophomore center Miller still remembers his head coach’s words after the first game against Spalding.
“Coach (Chris Bunch) said ‘we’re a lucky team, because not a lot of teams are in this position, and we’re still in the hunt,’” Miller recalled. “(Bunch said) ‘the best revenge would be to come back here on March 1 in the conference championship (game) and beat them on their home court.’”
Six minutes into the first half, Spalding held a 16-7 lead before Webster went on an 11-2 run to tie the game at 18 with six minutes left to play.
Then Webster trailed 27-20 less than three minutes before the half, but Miller and Hunter Ward spearheaded another comeback run. In the time remaining, Miller scored six points, four off of field goals and two off of free throws, which tied the game at 27. Ward scored four points in free throws, which gave Webster the lead at halftime. The second half was a close game. Spalding and Webster would not allow the other team’s lead to grow by more than four points. Bunch said that it was one of the most intense games in recent memory.
“It was probably one of the harder-fought games since I have been (at Webster),” Bunch said.
With 1:07 left in the game, Webster held a 54-50 lead over Spalding, but its lead was put in jeopardy after a foul by junior center Aaron Griffin.
Spalding’s Thomas Blakemore stepped up to the line and took his first free throw. He converted. Spalding had a chance to tie the game with a three pointer. With one more shot to be taken, Miller and his teammates prepared themselves to play the rebound.
“We never sit back and say, ‘(this) guy is going to make it.’ We’re always ready to play the miss,” Miller said.
Blakemore missed, but Spalding got the rebound and called time out. Once play resumed, Spalding tried to tie the game with a three-point attempt and missed.
And even though Spalding would get one more chance, they failed to capitalize on it.
Now that the regular season and conference tournament are finished, the Gorloks turn their attention to the NCAA Division III tournament. The Gorloks will face the Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU) Titans in the opening round of the tournament.
Miller said the IWU team (23-4) has size and shooting efficiency, but size is something that Webster is used to dealing with.
“We have played a lot of teams that have pretty good size that were bigger than (IWU) and we did just fine. We’re not really worried about size,” Miller said.
Bunch said that IWU’s offense may be more of a concern to Webster than their size. The Titans make 50 percent of its shots from the field, which Bunch said is “extraordinary.” IWU is also 43 percent from behind the three-point line and 70 percent from the free-throw line.
While IWU has the offense, Miller said Webster has taken pride in its defense, and its game plan will be simple.
“There is nothing that we can do except leave everything on the court,” Miller said. “We’re going to be ready and we’re excited.”