Warriors take 50th win over long-time rival Biola

A big crowd showed up to witness Westmont's 50th victory against Biola.

The 98th meeting between Westmont and Biola turned out to be one of the really good ones.

The Warriors used the energy of a big home crowd to come from behind in the second half and defeat rival Biola 71-67 on Tuesday night.

“The fans come back after they experience a game like this,” said Warrior head coach John Moore. “I think the Westmont fans are by far the best fans in GSAC – always have been – and they acted like it tonight.”

Blake Bender hits a jump shot for Westmont.

Preston Branson and Blake Bender led a second-half charge that saw the Warriors erase a 12-point Biola lead and surpass the NAIA’s No. 16 team. Branson had a game-high 25 points and Bender recorded his 10th double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

The Warriors took the lead for good on a Jordan Sachs layup with five minutes to go but couldn’t shake the Eagles until Branson iced the game in the final minute by making four free throws. Branson was 11-for-11 at the line for the night and scored 19 of his 25 in the second half.

“There’s always nerves,” Branson said of his final free throws. Both pairs pushed the Warriors lead back to two possessions.

Biola did all it could to stay within striking distance at the end. Josh Miller and Curtis Eatmon both knocked down 3-pointers in the final minute to keep it exciting.

“They were hitting threes towards the end so rebounds were huge,” Bender said.

Biola should have tied the game at 69-69 but David Cline missed a point-blank layup with 13 seconds left in the game. Chris Miller grabbed the rebound for Westmont and outletted to Branson, who was fouled and sent to the line to make it 71-67 with nine seconds on the clock.

“Biggest rebound of the game,” Moore proclaimed.

It was only Biola’s third loss of the season as the Eagles fall to 8-3 in GSAC and 18-3 overall. The victory moved Westmont into sole possession of fourth place with a 7-4 record.

Dan Rasp of Westmont scores on his first touch of the game.

The result was a marked turnaround from the two teams’ earlier meeting, which Biola won easily 65-46.

“We played a lot more confidently. We played to win versus playing to stay close,” explained Moore of his team’s second-half rise. “There’s a big difference there.”

Down 11, Branson and Bender kickstarted the rally. Branson’s 3-point play shaved Biola’s lead to eight before Bender’s driving layup and foul brought the Warriors to within 46-41.

Biola’s Elliot Tan answered with a three-pointer out of a timeout to put the Eagles back up eight, but Landon Boucher kept the heat on with a Westmont 3-pointer on the next possession.

Niko Brooks brought the Warriors to within one twice on two 3-pointers before Branson’s jumper gave Westmont its first second-half lead with 7:20 remaining.

Biola had four of its starters score in double figures, led by Nate Rakestraw’s 17.

Tuesday was Westmont’s 50th win over Biola in the 98 meetings.