Byron Classic turns into Branson’s bash

Westmont's Preston Branson scored a career-high 40 points on Thursday.

At the end of the night, there was absolutely no question who was this year’s MVP of the Tom Byron Classic.

Westmont sophomore Preston Branson topped his game-winning shot from the night before with the Warriors’ first 40-point night since the 1980’s, as Westmont claimed the tournament championship in an 87-84 victory over British Columbia.

Branson’s point total was the ninth-highest in the all-time Westmont record books, matching John Crew’s 40-point night in 1953. The last Warrior to score 40 or more points was Jon Freeman during the 1985-86 season.

“It wasn’t really just me. It was a team effort tonight,” Branson said, spreading credit around. “Nico got going, all of the bigs…”

British Columbia’s Alex Murphy had the game-tying 3-pointer fall into the cylinder before rimming out in the final seconds.

“I was just praying,” Branson said. “It doesn’t get any closer than that. We contended the shot. We were just fortunate to get the win.”

The Thunderbirds were 15-2 coming into the game, ranked No. 2 in the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport).
Murphy was the right guy to take the shot, having scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, including two 3-pointers in the games final six minutes.

Murphy helped keep B.C. close throughout the second half after the Warriors took a nine-point lead into the halftime break. The Thunderbirds got within six points several times, but didn’t get any closer until there was less than two minutes on the clock.

“We just played instinctual for the last five minutes.” Murphy said. “Instead of running plays and worrying about what we were doing on offense, we just starting penetrating and kicking, kind of took it back to the fundamentals. And that’s what we’re good at.”

Westmont's Matthew Hornbuckle forces British Columbia's Josh Whyte into a tough shot. (Vince Agapito Photos)

Branson’s final basket – he was 12-for-21 from the field – was a driving left-handed layup with 55 seconds left that gave Westmont an 87-82 lead. British Columbia’s Josh Whyte answered on the next possession, then the Thunderbirds came up with a defensive stop to set up Murphy’s potential equalizer.

Whyte led B.C. with 15 points and Murphy matched Melvyn Mayott with 14.

“We were hanging on by our fingernails but we were able to finish the job,” said Warriors head coach John Moore.

All-tournament selection Dan Rasp tallied 19 points, five rebounds and three assists. He also drew two charges and came up with a big block late in the game. Nico Brooks was a factor, posting 12 points, six assists and two steals.

But Branson’s performance was historic. Only seven Warriors have ever scored more points in a single game. As for the Tom Byron Classic, he was four points off the record held by California Baptist’s Jeff DeLaveaga since 1991.

The lefty shooting guard scored the game’s first five points and collected 19 by halftime. A night after coming through with the game-winning shot with 1.8 seconds on the clock, Branson scored the Warriors’ final eight points on Thursday to again provide the dagger.

“It was a statement game,” Moore said. “We felt like we needed to make a statement about who we are as a team and I think we were able to do that tonight in a variety of different ways.”

Westmont improves to 10-3 on the season and has a five-game winning streak alive.

TOURNAMENT SCOREBOARD

Thursday
Championship: Westmont 87, Bristish Columbia 84
Consolation: Valley City State 80, Bethany Lutheran 69
Wednesday
Westmont 79, Bethany Lutheran 78
British Columbia 75, Valley City State 65

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM

MVP – Preston Branson, Westmont

Nico Brooks, Westmont
Dan Rasp, Westmont
Josh Whyte, British Columbia
Aaron Duke, Valley City State
Alex Murphy, British Columbia

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