SALT LAKE CITY – The Westminster College men’s basketball team had its Frontier Conference Tournament run come to an end with a 75-68 loss to Rocky Mountain (Mont.) in the quarterfinals on Wednesday night in the Behnken Field House.
Westminster was the No. 4 seed and falls to 22-8 overall on the season. Rocky Mountain improves to 19-12 on the year and the fifth-seed moves on to play at No. 1 seed Lewis-Clark State in Saturday’s semi-finals.
“We played the right way tonight,” Westminster head coach Adam Hiatt said. “We were getting the shots we wanted, they just weren’t going in and sometimes that happens.”
The first half was a back-and-forth affair with both teams holding early leads. Rocky scored six straight points early in the half to open their biggest lead of the half of 13-10 with 12:17 to play. With the game tied at 16-16, Westminster went on a 7-0 run to lead 23-16 at the 7:30 mark. A Jake Orchard three and layups from Alex Drecksel and Tallon Robertson gave the Griffins a nine point lead – their largest of the half – at the 2:45 mark. They ended up leading 35-29 at intermission.
Rocky would take control of the game in the early stages of the second half. With the Griffins leading 42-36 with 14:59 to play, Rocky put together an 18-2 run over the next four minutes, capped with a three from Nile Finney, to take its biggest lead of the game at 54-44. The Griffins would close to within five three separate occasions, but the visitors were solid at the foul line and secured the upset.
Westminster shot 43.8 percent from the floor in the game and had a 40-30 edge in points in the paint. The Griffins connected eight times from beyond the arc with 15 assists on 28 made field goals. Rocky dominated the glass and finished with a 49-25 edge in rebounds and scored 17 points from 18 offensive rebounds.
“We were playing really good initial defense, making them take tough shots,” Hiatt said. “We just didn’t finish possessions and Rocky imposed their will on the boards.”
Rocky also took advantage of the 11 Westminster turnovers. The Battlin’ Bears scored 20 points from the Griffin miscues, including 14 from six second half turnovers. Westminster forced 18 turnovers with 12 steals and scored 18 points from them.
Orchard led four Griffins in double figures with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting. The senior added six rebounds – four offensive – and had four assists and two steals in his final game in the Behnken Field House. Colton Moon added 14 points with four treys and five assists. Seniors Jordan Hayter and Alex Drecksel added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Jeremy Nicolas had a huge night for Rocky with 19 points and 14 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the year. Nicolas was 5-of-6 from the floor and 9-of-10 at the foul line with six of his 14 rebounds coming on the offensive end. Joel Barndt also recorded a double-double as he finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds. Matt Strickland and Don Parham added 12 and 10 points.
Westminster must now wait and see if it will earn an at-large invite to the NAIA National Championships. The field of 32 will be announced on March 6.