MBK: Clutch free-throw shooting lifts Warriors to win

No.6 Westmont produced a 16-8 run to break a 62-62 tie and went on to defeat the host Arizona Christian Firestorm by a score of 78-70. It was only the Firestorm’s second loss at home this year and the first in Golden State Athletic Conference men’s basketball play.

“We played well in spurts and finished the game with important free throws,” said Westmont head coach John Moore. “It was a hard fought game. They executed well and we couldn’t sustain it when we had a 51-37 lead. They came storming back and tied the game late (62-62). It looked like momentum had shifted their way, but we re-gathered and made some big shots, especially free throws.”

A 3-pointer by Jordan Sachs (21 points, 9 rebounds) made the score 65-62 in favor of the Warriors before the Firestorms’ Daniel Cornelieus answered with a two-point jumper. C.J. Miller (15 points, 8 rebounds) was fouled on Westmont’s next possession and drained both attempts from the charity stripe. That was the first of 11 free throws in a row the Warriors would make in the last three minutes of the game.

Two free throws by Arizona Christian’s Jackson Helms (15 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks) were followed by two from Preston Branson (16 points), restoring a three-point cushion (69-66) to the Warriors with 1:27 to play. Forty seconds later, Cooper Damron (5 points) scored on a layup, was fouled and converted the free throw to put Westmont ahead 72-66.

The Firestorm, however, roared back when A. J. Koch (16 points, 4 rebounds) knocked down three free throws of his own to pull Arizona Christian within three (72-69) with 34 seconds to play.

Over the next 22 seconds, Branson would drill four more from the charity stripe and Sachs another two. Koch would add one more free throw with three seconds to play, but it was too little, too late.

Westmont (18-3, 6-0 GSAC) shot 42.4 percent from the floor to Arizona Christian’s 43.6. Westmont made nine of 29 from three-point range (31.0%) while Arizona Christian (13-5, 3-3) went six of 17 (35.3%). The Warriors edged the Firestorm in rebounds 40-35. Both teams had 12 turnovers.

“Jordan Sachs was spectacular again tonight,” said Moore. “Niko (Brooks) had a nice game with eight points, five assists and one turnover. He did a nice job leading us.

“It is a good college environment. Their fans were on fire when they tied the game and our guys responded in a very hostile environment. Our team did a good job of staying posed. ”

Westmont will continue GSAC play on Tuesday night when they host the Eagles of Concordia (13-7, 2-4) who fell into a five-way tie for fourth place by losing to visiting Biola (12-10, 2-4) by a score of 76-72.