Back To Back SLIAC Champs, Westminster Blue Jays

Back To Back SLIAC Champs, Westminster Blue Jays

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Westminster College became just the third program to win consecutive St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament Championships after besting Greenville College 128-121 in the 2017 championship game.

The defending champion Blue Jays came out strong in Saturday's championship game, jumping out to a 21-9 lead in the first five-minutes of the game. With the Blue Jays holding a 13-9 lead the busted out for eight straight points when the trio of Sean O'Brien (4 points), Romo Tabb (2 points), and Jimmy Villalobos (2 points) took advantage of the Panthers miscues which included two missed shots and two turnovers on four straight possessions. The Blue Jays would extend their lead to 16 points after Stue Hollandsworth knocked down a pair of free-throws to make the score 27-11, the largest lead for either team in the game.

But the fast paced Panthers were not done yet and were spurred on by the home crowd. After scoring just 11 points in the games first six-minutes the Panthers would score 25 points over the next six-minutes, closing the score to 40-36 after a Shane Smith jumper.

The three's kept flying for Greenville with Michael Hohm knocking a triple down with 4:06 on the clock to make the score 49-48 to give Greenville their first lead since the first basket of the game. Greenville did not relenquish the lead for the next four-minutes until the Blue Jays tied the score at 64-64 when Villalobos hit a pair of free throws with just seconds left on the clock before half.

One night after hitting 13 three-pointers in their semifinal win over Webster, the Blue Jays had to adjust their offensive strategy facing the run and gun Panthers. The Blue Jays spread the court, often sending their big man Sean O'Brien to half court for fast breaks and it paid off with O'Brien going for 24 points and 12 rebounds in the first-half alone. Meanwhile the Blue Jays hit just one three-pointer in each half on Saturday.

The Panthers seemed to grab the momentum early in the second-half, hitting on four of their first eight shots of the half to take a 77-70 lead. It was the Panthers press that allowed them to open their largest lead of the game at 89-81 with 12:19 remaining. Westminster, who had averaged just over 13 turnovers per game coming into the game, was forced into 26 turnovers in the game's first 28 minutes of action.

However from the 12-minute mark on the Blue Jays committed just three more turnovers, allowing them to fight back from the eight point deficit. Another factor in the Blue Jays come back was their ability to get to the free-throw line. The Blue Jays went into the bonus with 8:56 on the clock, down 98-96 at the time. They then scored eight of their next ten points from the free-throw line, taking a 106-105 lead. In fact over the final nine-minutes of the game the Blue Jays stepped to the free-throw line  22 times, hitting 16 of the attempts.

Once the Blue Jays had the lead they would not relinquish it again as the Panthers long range attack went cold, missing eight consecutive three-point attempts over the next five minutes. Greenville finished the game 15-of-52 from three-point range but hit on just 27-percent of their three-point attempts in the second-half.

Westminster was led by O'Brien's 34 point, 18 rebound game while Villalobos added 31 points and Tabb finished with 20 points. The Blue Jays shot 63-percent in the game and out rebounded the Panthers 60-40. The Blue Jays are now 19-8 overall and earn the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III National Tournament. The tournament pairings will be announced on Monday afternoon.

Greenville shot just 39-percent in the game and finish the season at 21-6. Elmo Smith led Greenville with 29 points while Shane Smith finished with 21 points.

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