By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
Tim Soares walked toward the Mustang student section, waving his arms like a conductor, beckoning the cheers to grow still louder.
Days earlier, on the same court, The Master’s University men’s basketball team suffered its worst defeat in three years, and its hopes of an at-large berth to the NAIA national tournament appeared to be fading.
But here was Soares on senior night Saturday, soaking up an 80-75 win over No. 4 Westmont College, a victory the No. 16-ranked Mustangs sorely needed and a showcase of what the team remains capable of. More than 1,000 fans filed into the MacArthur Center to witness it.
“Tonight we played like the old Mustang basketball we’ve been accustomed to,” said Master’s head coach Kelvin Starr, whose squad has beaten Westmont eight straight times. “It’s fun to get back to doing it.”
Mustang DJ Wilson’s three-pointer with 38 seconds remaining broke a 73-73 tie. And after a pair of Soares free throws, Master’s sealed the game with one final defensive stop, Sam Boone pressuring Abram Carrasco into an off-target shot with 14 seconds left. Wilson secured the rebound.
The stop sent the Mustangs running. Wilson passed ahead to Jordan Starr, who relayed it to Boone. Boone sped downcourt and fed Brock Gardner for a reverse layup to set the final score.
The result was a gratifying win just four days after what could have been a disheartening loss to the University of St. Katherine. Master’s improved to 21-7 overall and 11-5 in Golden State Athletic Conference play. Westmont fell to 25-3 and 14-2.
“Because of where we’ve been these past couple weeks and now where we are,” Soares said, “it shows how our team has great competitors across the board.”
Six Mustangs scored in double figures, led by Darryl McDowell-White’s 16. It was McDowell-White’s highest-scoring game in nearly a month and another occasion in which the senior guard shined against the Warriors. McDowell-White made a last-second layup in Santa Barbara in January to beat Westmont 70-69. Saturday’s performance came with his parents in attendance. They made the trip from Brisbane, Australia, for senior night.
“Man, he’s amazing,” Wilson said. “I love watching Darryl play. We have trust in him that he’ll always come through.”
Soares added 12 points and 11 rebounds, Gardner had 11 points, and Jordan Starr contributed 10 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
It was TMU’s bench, however, that pushed the Mustangs over the top.
Boone scored 13 points to go with five rebounds and five assists. Wilson had 10 points and five boards. And Jay Turley played exceptional defense on Carrasco in the second half, taking over on the star guard so that McDowell-White wouldn’t fall further into foul trouble.
Turley also hit a clutch three-pointer with 7:40 remaining that gave Master’s a 64-61 lead. It came when Gardner swung the ball to Turley in the corner for an open look, just one example of the renewed trust the Mustangs showed in each other.
“We trusted each other tonight,” Soares, a senior, said. “Nobody scored a ton, but everybody scored. Everyone was doing exactly what they were expected to do.”
The Mustangs are the only NAIA team to beat the Warriors this season. Westmont’s only other loss came against NCAA Division 1 UC Santa Barbara.
Master’s will host Life Pacific at TMU on Thursday night for a double-header. The women play at 5:30 with the men following at 7:30.
TMU track and field sets new program records
Stephen Pacheco set a new Master’s program record in the 3,000 meters on Saturday at the Rossi Relays in Claremont, Calif.
Pacheco finished the race in 8 minutes, 33.52 seconds.
Elsewhere, freshman Micaiah Scott recorded a mark of 5.19 meters in the women’s long jump, setting a new Master’s record.
More than half of the Mustangs who competed Saturday set new lifetime bests in their events.
“Today may have been the best season opener we’ve ever had,” said TMU head coach Zach Schroeder. “I’m so thankful for a team that works hard to worship the Lord.”
The Mustangs will be sending their distance medley relay to the NAIA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Brookings, South Dakota next week.
For more information on Master’s Athletics, visit GoMustangs.com.