Posted: March 23, 2015
By NEWS SERVICE REPORTS
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Sophomore guard Cory Blau hit the game-winning jumper with 7.1 seconds remaining to lift unseeded Westmont of Santa Barbara to a 70-69 win over top-seeded Hope International in a semifinal of the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship on Monday night.
Blau hit the game-winner from the right elbow after Hope International (32-3) had taken the lead with 16 seconds to play on a floater in the lane by Kenny Morgan. The Royals got a final chance to go back in front at the buzzer, but Morgan missed on a 17-footer.
“Our guys played really hard and fought back,” Hope coach Bill Czech said. “They showed the character, will, and toughness that they have shown all year long. Hats off to Westmont. They played a great game and they were very well prepared.”
Playing to the adage that it is difficult to beat a team three times in one season, Westmont (25-10) went looking for redemption from two regular-season losses to the Royals during Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) play. The Warriors took a 9-8 lead on a pair of free throws by Daniel Carlin at the 15:20 mark of the first half and led until Morgan’s shot in the final seconds.
Westmont used those free throws to begin a 15-2 run that lasted nearly 8 minutes, holding the Royals to a single field goal for 11:08 for a 22-10 lead. Austin Sanford ended the drought with a bucket in the paint, and Hope managed to trim five points off the 12-point deficit and finish the half facing a 34-27 gap.
Hope kept the game close throughout the second half, closing within a single point on a three-point play by Morgan with 8:25 remaining. Westmont pushed its lead back to as much as six at the 2:35 mark before the Royals closed to 68-67 with 45 seconds left, setting up the final sequence of plays.
“First of all, I have to start with Hope International. They are an incredible team and we are very fortunate,” Westmont head coach John 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.
Hope’s Morgan led all scorers with 20 points and added three rebounds and three assists. Matt Green had 14 points and four rebounds, and Sanford added 11 points and six rebounds.
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