The Westminster men's basketball team is NCAA Tournament bound after winning the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) Tournament. The Westminster Blue Jays defeated Spalding in the championship game on Saturday afternoon, 61-59, naming them the SLIAC Tournament Champions for the fourth time in program history.
The Blue Jays started the game with a 2-0 lead, but the Spalding Golden Eagles scored six to take a 6-2 lead 6:05 in. Sophomore Jimmy Villalobos and junior Tanner Gentges each made a layup to bring the game within two, 8-6, but Spalding then doubled the Blue Jay's score, 12-6.
A three-pointer by sophomore Nick Carlos, followed by a layup from freshman Stu Hollandsworth and a jump shot from Villalobos gave the Blue Jays the lead for the first time since two minutes into the game. Spalding took the lead back 20 seconds later, and the Blue Jays were unable to pull back the lead, despite bringing the game within two points twice. The Golden Eagles held a 29-23 lead with 57 seconds on the clock, but an over the shoulder buzzer-beater by Carlos sent the game into halftime, 29-25.
A three by Carlos brought the game within one to start the second half, but the Golden Eagles pulled up by seven, 35-28. The Blue Jays pushed a 10-2 run over a three minute span to take a 38-37 lead. Two free throws by the Golden Eagles gave Spalding the lead back, but another three-pointer by Carlos knotted the game at 41-41. Spalding managed to pull ahead again. A freshman Collin Caywood three brought the Blue Jays back within one, and a layup by freshman Carter Wands tied the game at 50-50 with 5:09 left to play.
The lead changed back to Spalding, but sophomore Romo Tabb and Carlos each went 2-for-2 from the line to steal back the lead. A basket by Villalobos put the Blue Jays up by three, but Spalding quickly hit a three-pointer to knot the game with 1:37 left. Sophomore Tanner Cochran made two free throws with 44 seconds on the clock to take a 58-56 lead, and a steal from Villalobos, followed by a fast break dunk by Tabb, gave the Blue Jays a four-point lead with 12 seconds remaining. With four seconds on the clock, Spalding made a jump shot. They immediately fouled, sending Wands to the line. Wands made one, giving the Blue Jays a 61-58 lead with three seconds of play left. Spalding drew a foul with one second on the clock, sending them to the line. They made the first and missed the second, but pulled down the offensive rebound. They took a shot to tie the game, but missed, ending the championship game with a 61-59 Blue Jay win.
Spalding outshot the Blue Jays from the field, but the Blue Jays dominated the free throw line with an 85.7 percentage, making 12-of-14.
Carlos shot 61.5 percent from the field and 60 percent from the arc, leading the floor with 24 points. Tabb pulled down seven boards, and Villalobos recorded four steals and three assists.
Following the game, the SLIAC announced the Tournament MVP and the All-Tournament Team. Carlos was named the SLIAC Tournament MVP after putting up 38 points combined throughout the two tournament games. He shot 59 percent from the field with 13 field goals and 60 percent from beyond the arc with nine three-pointers. Villalobos was named to the SLIAC All-Tournament Team after his 19 point, 15 rebound performance throughout the two games. He also recorded seven assists and five steals.
Westminster will find out their first round location and date of the NCAA Tuornament during the NCAA Selection Show on Monday, February 29, at 11:30 a.m. CST.