FULTON, Mo. - Westminster men's basketball fell to Blackburn in overtime in their regular season finale, but thanks to a Webster loss, the Blue Jays clinched the fourth and final spot in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Tournament.
The Blue Jays end their season 15-10 overall and 10-8 in the conference, entering the tournament as the No. 4 seed.
"Having lost our last three games in a row and still qualifying for the tournament makes us feel like we have been given a second life," said Westminster Head Coach Matt Mitchell. "Credit goes to Blackburn today, they played like their season was on the line."
In the opening half, both teams struggled to score and neither team led by more than six points in a back-and-forth defensive battle. After the first four minutes, the score was tied 5-5 with Stu Hollandsworth and Carter Wands earning the lone Blue Jay buckets. The Beavers hit a three-pointer to take the 8-5 lead, but a 9-0 run from the Blue Jays gave them the biggest lead of the half at 14-8 with 10:28 to play.
Each team continued to trade baskets, ending the half tied at 27 points. A total of nine of Westminster's 27 points came from the freethrow line, keeping the Blue Jays in the game. C. Wands held the team in the game offensively, leading the team at the half with nine points.
In the seoncd half, both teams stepped up offensively. The opening four minute stretch featured five lead changes and one tie, giving the Beavers the 35-33 advantage with 16:13 to play.
A Blackburn 7-0 run minutes later gave them their biggest lead of the game at 44-35, but a jump shot and three-pointer from Kobe Wands put Westminster back within two possessions at the 9:45 mark.
Another 8-0 run for the Beavers over the next three minutes would give them the first double-digit lead of the game, 56-44. A Blue Jay 7-0 run, which included five made freethrows, put them back within striking distance with under five minutes in the game.
At the 2:57 mark, K. Wands hit another three-pointer to tie the game at 58 points each, but Blackburn responded with back-to-back scoring possessions to go up four points with under two minutes to play. Hollandsworth hit a freethrow and a C. Wands defensive rebound gave the Blue Jays the ball. K. Wands hit yet another three-pointer to tie the game at 62 each at the 1:12 mark.
Blackburn responded by knocking down two freethrows in their next possession after a Westminster foul, but K. Wands stepped up yet again to knock down a deep three-pointer to give Westminster the 65-64 advantage with 35 seconds left.
On their lack possession, Blackburn hit a layup to go up 66-65, giving Westminster the ball with eight seconds remaining. After a missed jumper from K. Wands, C. Wands went up for the offensive rebound and was fouled with 0.9 seconds remaining. C. Wands hit the front end of the freethrow to tie the game at 66, but missed the second shot to send the game into overtime.
Westminster scored in back-to-back possessions to open overtime, but five points from Blackburn gave them the 71-70 advantage with 3:20 to play. Blackburn hit two more freethrows and a three-pointer for the 76-70 lead with just over two minutes left to play.
A three-point play from Tanner Cochran put Westminster back in a one-possession game at 76-73. Each team his two freethrows to make the score 78-75 with 45 seconds to play. Four straight freethrows from Blackburn sealed their win, sending the Beavers to the SLIAC Tournament.
"Today was a great game at the Historic Gymnasium," said Mitchell. "We were down 14 at one point and we sent it into overtime - that shows the heart of our guys. A shot here or there would have changed everything.
"Karson Hayes (Blackburn) was brilliant tonight," added Mitchell. "We just didn't have a way to stop him." Hayes scored a game-high 38 points.
K. Wands led the Blue Jays with 22 points, including hitting four clutch three-pointers late in the game. Hollandsworth added 19 points and seven rebounds. C. Wands was just one assist and two rebounds away from a triple-double, scoring 14, dishing out nine assists, and pulling down eight rebounds.
Westminster awaited the final score of the Webster vs Greenville game to learn their postseason fate. With the Webster loss, the Blue Jays will enter the tournament at the No. 4 seed and will face host and No. 1 seed Greenville Thursday at 8 p.m.