The Master’s University men’s basketball team shrugged off a slow start against Westmont College in the semifinals of the Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament on Friday at William Jessup University in Rocklin, winning 83-71 to advance to the finals for the third consecutive year.
Falling behind 7-0 in the early going, Darryl McDowell-White hit a 3-pointer for TMU’s first field goal of the game, narrowing the deficit quickly. The junior guard, who led the Mustangs in scoring in the two regular season contests against the Warriors, finished with seven points and six rebounds.
Much like they’ve done all season, the senior backcourt of Hansel Atencia and Delewis Johnson led the way for the Mustangs, with the two All-Conference Team members combing for 42 of TMU’s 83 points.
Atencia showed a propensity for hitting tough shots, making a handful of fadeaway jumpers and getting in the lane to find his teammates. He finished with 20 points, two rebounds, six assists and two steals.
Johnson scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds, making 10-of-13 free throw attempts. The duo each hit a pair of free throws down the stretch to close out the contest.
The pace of the game started off slowly, with both teams playing a more halfcourt style of offense, but the tempo started to pick up toward the end of the first half.
A Michael Taylor dunk off an assist from Atencia with less than four minutes remaining in the first half seemed to swing momentum in TMU’s favor.
Atencia hit a tough fadeaway jumper, then drove through traffic to get into the paint and made a contested layup to make the score 40-31 heading into halftime.
The Mustangs opened the second half with a dunk from junior Tim Soares, pushing the lead to double digits for the first time all night.
The two-time GSAC Defensive Player of the year dominated in the paint and crashed the offensive glass to the tune of eight offensive rebounds. He ended the night with 12 total rebounds, adding 14 points, two blocks and a steal.
Junior Brock Gardner was another big factor for the Mustangs, particularly in the second half. He showed great energy in crashing the glass and making hard cuts in the lane, trying to find soft spots in Westmont’s defense.
He finished with 10 points, nine rebounds, two assists, three blocks and one steal. With the Warriors trailing by five points in the closing minutes, Gardner came up with a key offensive rebound and put back off a missed 3-pointer to build the lead back to seven at 71-64.
The Mustangs did a good job of taking care of the ball, committing 11 turnovers compared to 14 for the Warriors.
TMU also controlled the paint, scoring 38 points inside compared to 22 for Westmont. The Mustangs shot 31-66 from the field (47 percent) and held the Warriors to 39.3 percent shooting (24-61).
Freshman Jordan Starr added six points, two rebounds and an assist off the bench, and made two clutch free throws in the final minutes to give TMU a nine-point lead.
Westmost once again brought the score to within five with less than two minutes remaining, but Atencia hit one of his patented fadeaways to push the lead to 75-68.
With 31 seconds left, Gardner blocked a Westmont 3-point attempt, sealing the game.
TMU will face William Jessup in the championship game on Saturday at 6 p.m.