Warrior men shoot past lowly Lions for sixth straight

Despite riding a 5-game winning streak, the Westmont men’s basketball team looked rather sluggish on Tuesday night against visiting Vanguard… At least for the first five minutes.

After falling behind 10-2 in the early goings, the Warriors started shooting the lights out from long range and dominating the boards in an 80-60 win over the last-place Lions.

Led by reigning NAIA Player of the Week Preston Branson’s 19 points, the Warriors (11-3, 3-2 GSAC) took the lead at the 4:53 mark of the first half and never relinquished it. Branson, a sophomore who dropped 40 points in the Tom Byron Classic championship game last week, is just the third player in school history to be named National Player of the Week, along with Mark Sheard (1984) and Brian Gomes (1998).

“It’s an honor and it feels good, but I’m more excited about the wins,” said Branson.

Westmont out-rebounded the Lions (2-11, 0-5 GSAC) by a huge margin, 48-28, in the game. Blake Bender had a double-double with 11 boards and 10 points.

“He has been an absolute man on the boards. We challenged our guys to be great rebounders tonight,” said coach John Moore, specifically pointing to 15 offensive boards nabbed by his team.

The hosts fired up 22 3-pointers, and strangely had a higher percentage from beyond-the-arc (54.5 %) than they did from two-point range (39 %). Vanguard, meanwhile, was below 40% from the field in the game.

“I expect a little bit better from inside the arc. I think we’re a 50-percent team or better,” said Moore of the Warriors’ shooting.

A 34-28 halftime lead grew to double-digits five minutes into the second half and hovered around 18 down the stretch. At that point, Moore was likely already thinking about Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. home game against Azusa Pacific, the No.10 team in the NAIA.

“We’ve got a payback game coming up… Azusa’s the team that knocked us out of the (2010 GSAC) tournament,” said Moore. “It’s a great opportunity for us to go up against a very, very good team and we look forward to that game.”