MBK: Missing a key ingredient, Westmont falls in NAIA final

Westmont was missing a huge part of its game in its first NAIA National Tournament final.

Standout center Daniel Carlin was suffering from the flu, and the 6-9 senior’s absence loomed large for the Warriors in their match-up with first-time finalist Dalton State, Ga., on Tuesday night at the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium.

Sixth-seeded Dalton State took full advantage of Carlin’s absence and scored a 71-53 victory over the Warriors to claim the national championship in only its second year as a four-year college.

Carlin started the game but was pulled after about three minutes. Without having to worry about him inside, Dalton State was able to pressure Westmont’s 3-point shooters. The Warriors made just 6 of 32 from behind the arc and shot 18 of 60 overall from the floor (30 percent).

Dalton State got a huge game from Jordan Bowling. He scored 18 points and got the Roadrunners going after Westmont opened up a 10-2 lead to start the game. Bowling scored 9 points during an 11-3 run as the Roadrunners tied the score at 13-all.

Cory Blau scored inside for Westmont for a 15-13 lead before Dalton State exploded for 10 straight points. Anthony Hilliard keyed the run with a parking-lot 3-pointer, giving the Roadrunners the lead for good.

“We needed to get off to a good start tonight, especially with Daniel Carlin being ill,” Westmont coach John Moore told reporters. “With him being on the bench, I knew we really needed to make opportunities for Cory to take lots of shots. But then we started missing shots. When you miss shots in a game like this, it is hard to come back. We didn’t get to keep them on their heels like we had hoped to.”

Hilliard capped a 22-6 run to end the first half with a fall-away 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Dalton State a 37-21 halftime lead.

“Boy we hit some shots,” Dalton State coach Tony Ingle said in a post-game press conference. “Hilliard’s shot to take us into halftime really put us in a great state of mind.”

Westmont, meanwhile, struggled with its outside shooting, making just one 3-pointer out of 11 attempts in the first half.

In the second half, Warriors received good play from freshman center David Gunn off the bench and cut Dalton State’s lead to six, 50-44, with 6:02 remaining. But the Roadrunners responded with a 3-pointer from Sean Tate and a strong drive to the basket by Hilliard to raise the their lead to 11, 55-44.

The Roadrunners twice broke Westmont’s press for a layup and a dunk by Bowling to go up 59-46 with a little over three minutes left in the game.

Bowling was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

Blau was the only Westmont player to score double figures with 17 points. Gunn and Nate Marsing each scored eight points.

Hilliard scored 14 points and Preston Earle added 13 for Dalton State. Ladaris Green led all rebounders with 11.

Westmont was trying to become only the second unseeded team to win the championship.

“This is an incredible accomplishment by a team that has been the underdog throughout this entire tournament,” said Moore. “I am overwhelmed with pride for this group of men. They are a class act.”

Editor’s Note: Story was reported from Santa Barbara

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