Double Trouble For Mustangs

December 7, 2016

Santa Clarita, Calif. -- Something had to give as Tuesday evening's GSAC opener wearily made its way into a second overtime.

On one side, No. 9 Westmont was just glad to be there after rallying to force the first extra stanza and then duplicating that in the initial overtime period to play five more minutes.

Meanwhile, undefeated TMU was wondering what it would take to put away a resilient Warrior squad and keep its record unblemished with a statement-making victory to open conference play.

The wondering was answered by Westmont, which produced a decisive 7-0 run over a 1:40 span in the second overtime that created separation and led to an 84-78 victory over the Mustangs.

The loss was the Mustangs' first (7-1) in their initial season under head coach Kelvin Starr while Westmont improved to 9-1.

After Delewis Johnson, who paced the Mustangs with 25 points off the bench, tied the game at 74 with 4:12 left in the second extra session, the Warriors went to work at both ends of the court.  They held the Mustangs without a point for nearly four minutes (3:37) and scored seven themselves during that stretch to draw away for the win.  The Mustangs pulled within four points (82-78) on a Lawrence Russell layup with six seconds left on the clock, however, Westmont's Sean Harman ended it with a couple of free throws.

Harman was instrumental in the first overtime, nailing a three-pointer to start a quick 6-0 burst that gave the Warriors a 71-70 lead with 2:30 remaining.  It stopped a 5-0 skein by the Mustangs to open the stanza.  Matt McClain converted a couple of free throws and Johnson buried a three-pointer to put the Mustangs out in front 70-65.

Following a Gerald Karczewski three-pointer, Russell answered with a fallaway jumper to reclaim the lead for the Mustangs before Westmont's Samuel Bentz tied the game at 72 with a free throw.  That's the way the first overtime ended as the clubs prepared for the pivotal second extra session.

It really wasn't surprising the clubs played 50 minutes of basketball.  The game featured mid-season intensity and neither squad shot the ball well because defense was on display at both ends of the court.

The Mustangs led early, taking a 5-2 lead on a McClain jumper and moving ahead 9-6 on a Travis Yenor trifecta.  After Johnson bulled his way to a layup, the Mustangs had an 11-9 lead with 15:47 left in the opening half.  Westmont responded with authority, ripping off nine straight points to vault ahead 19-11 at the 13:01 mark.

A Russell three-pointer put an end to the Warrior run and ignited a 9-3 skein that pulled the Mustangs within 22-20 at the 6:57 mark.  Jumpers by Johnson and Yenor sandwiched around a Tim Soares dunk made it a two-point game.

The Warriors retaliated with six straight points but the Mustangs closed the half with a rush, outscoring Westmont 14-2 down the stretch to take a 34-30 lead at the break.  Another Russell three-pointer sparked the run and a McClain dunk capped it in dramatic fashion.  In between, Reid Shackelford, Yenor and Johnson combined for five free throws, and Russell and Evan Jenkins made a layup apiece.

Over the opening 20 minutes, the Mustangs managed just 36% (12-33) shooting while limiting Westmont to 35% (12-34).

Both of those numbers took a jump in the second half as the teams started to find the range. 

The Warriors hit their first three shots of the stanza, including a couple of three-pointers, to take a 38-36 lead with 17:37 remaining.  The Mustangs responded with a Russell layup and a Yenor trey to claim a 41-38 lead 90 seconds later.

The game was tied twice (41-41 and 44-44) over the next couple of minutes before a Johnson layup with 12:17 showing on the clock gave the Mustangs a lead they wouldn't relinquish until the closing seconds.  They led by as many as six points three times (57-51, 59-53, and 61-55) and were up 65-60 with 2:08 left to play before the Warriors made it a much longer evening by scoring the final five points of regulation.

The Mustangs improved to 48% accuracy from the field in the second half and the Warriors were right there, as well.  At the final buzzer, the Mustangs finished at a season-low 41% while the Warriors hit at a 39% clip.

Johnson's 25 points, a season-high, came on 10-16 shooting from the field.  He also yanked down six rebounds.  Russell continued to display a terrific all-around game, scoring 21 points and pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds to post his fifth double-double in eight outings.  Yenor was superb from long range, draining four three-pointers en route to a career-high 19 points.

After the game, Starr said, "Obviously, we're thrilled to be competing with the No. 9 team in the country but still very disappointed we could not come away with the win.  There are a lot of good things to build on."

Following the conference-opening heartbreaker, the Mustangs will regroup and head to Phoenix for a Saturday GSAC matchup with Arizona Christian.