For the Webster University men’s basketball team, the roller coaster that was their season ended too early for their liking. On Feb. 27, the Gorloks lost 67-61 to Fontbonne University in the first round of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) tournament, ending their season.
Fontbonne launched a barrage of long-range shots against Webster as the visiting Griffins nailed 10 of their 14 three-point attempts on their way to the conference final. Webster played a zone defense that night as they had throughout the year. Senior and team-leading scorer Ahmad Smith said he thought the Gorloks should have switched to a man-to-man defense sooner, to make it more difficult for Fontbonne to shoot from the outside.
“It was pretty bad,” Smith said. “People weren’t ready to play, and I believe that we should’ve done some different things on the defensive side instead of staying in a zone.”
On the other hand, fellow senior Aaron Griffin said Fontbonne simply outplayed Webster, and that their high shooting percentage was a product of Fontbonne playing well.
“We played the zone the whole year,” Griffin said, “and it got us to where we were. We held teams to 55-56 points in the zone.”
Head Coach Chris Bunch thought the same.
“I didn’t go home and kick myself or second guess,” Bunch said. “It’s what we’ve done all year, and it’s what we handcuffed them (Fontbonne) with twice earlier this year. Maybe we didn’t cover as well as we should’ve.”
The game had been close until Fontbonne outscored Webster 30-10 for 11 minutes during the second half. Griffin said it was at this point when the team began to lose confidence in itself. Both he and Bunch said the large contingent of Fontbonne fans who made the trip to the game at Webster added to Fontbonne’s momentum.
“When they (Fontbonne) started making threes, our heads went down,” Griffin said.
Despite a late rally, Fontbonne held on for the win, though they lost in the final to Spalding University.
Webster had defeated Fontbonne both home and away by double-digit margins, but with a berth in the SLIAC Championship game on the line, Webster was unable to win on their home court.
During a stretch in January, the Gorloks dropped three of four conference games. Later in the season, the team fell to fourth in the SLIAC standings before making a late run to the top to claim home-court advantage in the SLIAC tournament.
For the record
Smith ended his Webster career as the second-highest all-time scorer in Webster history. He missed five games due to an ankle injury this year but still notched 333 points, with a team-high average of 15.9 points per game. Despite the sour end to the season, Smith is happy with his legacy at Webster.
“I’ve had a pretty great career,” Smith said. “I feel like I’ve made my mark on this school’s history.”
Moving forward, Smith praised sophomore teammate and roommate CJ Moore and expects him to be one of the major forces on the team.
“I think he’s (Moore) about to take off and be the face of the school for the next few years,” Smith said.
Moore saw significantly more playing time this season opposed to his freshman year. He played in all 26 games and averaged 9.1 points per game. He said he will miss having the presence of mentors like Smith on and off the court.
“I’ve learned a lot from Ahmad (Smith). He brought me to the side sometimes and would tell me what I needed to do in the game,” Moore said. “I see him as a brother.”
For his efforts this year, Smith was named First-Team All Conference. Griffin and sophomore Hunter Ward achieved second-team honors for the conference. Griffin strung together four of five games with more than 10 points and 10 rebounds in January. Despite the ups and downs this year, he was excited to finish first in the conference in the regular season.
“It was hard to swallow,” Griffin said. “But I don’t have any regrets. To Webster University as a whole, to the players, the coaches and the fans, it was a pleasure to play here.”