MBK: Blau’s shot puts Westmont into championship game

Cory Blau hit a 12-foot jumper with seven seconds left in regulation, lifting Westmont to a 70-69 victory over GSAC rival and top-seeded Hope International in the semifinals at the NAIA National Basketball Tournament on Monday night in Kansas City.

The Warriors advance to their first national championship game on Tuesday night against sixth-seeded Dalton State, Ga. at 5 p.m. PDT.

Westmont lost its two GSAC meetings against No. 1 ranked Hope International (32-3). Hope’s Kenny Morgan got off a last-second game-winning shot attempt but it bounced off the rim. Morgan led all scorers with 20 points

“We wanted to keep Morgan out of the key,” Westmont coach John Moore said in a radio interview. “It was beautiful. Our defense made the play to win the game for us.”

Blau scored 13 points on 5 of 8 shooting. Daniel Carlin scored 16 points before fouling out with 3:07 left in the second half. Sam Bentz came up big, scoring 10 points. Hayden Anderson also had 10 points.

Bentz hit the second of two free throws to give the Warriors a 68-65 lead with 1:04 left. Hope missed a 3-point attempt, but the Royals got the rebound and were fouled. Austin Sanford made both free throws to make it 68-67.

Westmont threw a long pass but it was intercepted by the Royals with 30 seconds to go. They worked the ball to Morgan, who made a floater for a 69-68 lead.

Then Blau made one of the biggest shots in Westmont basketball history.

“First of all, I have to start with Hope International. They are an incredible team and we are very fortunate,” Moore said. “Every time we took a lead, they came back and made big shot after big shot. They hit a big shot at the end and it looked like it might have won the game for them. But we put the ball in our best guy’s hand and Cory Blau had no hesitation. He buried that shot.”

The Warriors shot 46 percent from the field (26 for 56) and converted 13 of 15 free throws while committing just nine turnovers. The Royals were a bit better from the field, hitting 26 of 53 field-goal attempts (49 percent) and matched the Warriors’ free-throw line, but gave up one more 3-point shot (5-4) and turned the ball over 12 times.

“This team has been a surprise,” Moore said. “This team was 7-6 at the beginning of the season. They have been a team that has had firm belief. They have been a team that is incredibly unselfish.”

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