CARLINVILLE, Ill. - With their 68-64 win over Blackburn, Westminster men's basketball has clinched a spot in the SLIAC tournament.
The Blue Jays improve to 16-6 overall and 12-3 in the conference, tied in first place with Greenville.
Westminster struggled offensively in the first half, playing most of the first 20 minutes from behind. The largest deficit in the first half was 10 points. Cody Shaw and Jimmy Villalobos provided 14 total points, seven apiece, of the 24 points the Blue Jays were able to score in the first half.
"We had a very difficult time finding out rhythm tonight," said Westminster Head Coach Matt Mitchell. "Blackburn was playing with a great deal of emotion and they clearly out-played us in the first half."
Sean O'Brien, Tanner Cochran, and Romo Tabb combined for 11 points to open the second half to keep Westminster in the game. Cochran was the spark Westminster needed in the second half, scoring all of his team-high 14 points in the last 20 minutes of the game.
"Tanner got hot and knocked down a couple of key baskets," said Mitchell. "Sean made some key freethrows down the stretch which was critical."
A 10-0 run ending at the 14:22 mark put the Blue Jays back within one point of the Beavers, but Blackburn went on a 7-0 run right after to keep a seven-point lead.
Tanner Gentges finally put Westminster back on top for the first time in the game at the 5:55 mark by hitting a freethrow to make the score 53-52.
Westminster held their lead for the last five minutes of the game. With 1:29 left to play, O'Brien knocked down two important freethrows to give Westminster a 67-64 lead. O'Brien grabbed a rebound on the other end to secure the last possession, while Carter Wands hit a freethrow to give the Blue Jays a four-point lead for the win.
On top of Cochran's 14 points, Villalobos tallied 13 while O'Brien added 10.
"It was a great road conference win and we are happy about that, but we will need to play better Saturday," said Mitchell.
Westminster continues conference play on the road against Iowa Wesleyan Saturday at 3 p.m.