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Men's Basketball - Sat, Mar. 4, 2017 - posted by Seth Preuss
Liam Hunt (32) was one of two Royals to lead the team in scoring at Westmont (Photo by Liza Rosales)
Liam Hunt (32) was one of two Royals to lead the team in scoring at Westmont (Photo by Liza Rosales)
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(18)Westmont College
(5)Hope International

SANTA BARBARA, CA – Hope International traveled north to Westmont for the 2017 GSAC Tournament Semifinals on Saturday, March 4 at Murchison Gymnasium. The Royals were able to battle past the Warriors despite playing in hostile territory and will return home to play in the GSAC Tournament Championship after defeating Westmont by 15 on the road.

The Royals came out swinging from the start at Westmont. Kyle Hoag (SR/Mission Viejo, CA) was able to win the tip which set up a three-pointer by Liam Hunt (JR/San Anselmo, CA) for a 3-0 lead. A pair of good early stops with a block by Hunt and layup at other end by Hoag made for a 7-2 lead to start the game. Not to be outdone on its home floor however, a 6-0 run put Westmont up 8-7 for their first lead of the night five minutes into the game.

The game stayed competitive throughout the first half - Daniel Young (JR/Las Vegas, NV) put up six straight points and pulled in two boards for a 13-10 lead while working on a smaller defender, but the Warriors were buoyed by their home fans and would take an eight-point lead after a 9-0 run to lead 33-25 with 3:22 left in the half.

After the game Coach Bill Czech pointed to that moment as a turning point for his team, saying "I was just real happy with the guys, down eight with 3:22 to go and for them to rally and tie by the half and then execute in the second half was a testament to their play." Czech would continue on to say "The guys really played hard, composed and focused which was because the guys were really locked in this week.

The Royals' late rally to tie at the break sapped some of their hosts' momentum and HIU kept up the charge in the second half – Hunt made a layup and forced a turnover that Deondre Bryant (JR/Santa Ana, CA) cashed in at the other end for a quick 4-0 run that gave HIU a 45-38 lead, and the Royals would keep the lead for the rest of the way.

Westmont was able to keep it close for the first ten minutes of the second half but several of their key contributors got in foul trouble and was limited offensively with several of their core players plagued by an abundance of calls from the officials. 13 fouls were called against the Warriors in the second half alone and HIU was able to profit both at the foul line and from the limiting effect it had on the Warriors' roster. The Royals were able to capitalize on the advantage and led by as many as 18 before punching their ticket to the GSAC Tournament Championship with a 76-61 final in Santa Barbara.

Coach Czech's squad never reached the double bonus in either half, committing an even eight fouls per period, which he credited to his team's mentality going into the week. "[Especially in the] second half, our guys showed a lot of poise and focus and togetherness. Liam was incredible for us – he had a great line [in the box score]. Kyle and Daniel didn't play a lot but they did some good damage in their time on the floor, they made a huge impact while they were in."

Hunt and Donny Punter (JR/Long Island, NY) led all scorers with 17 apiece – Punter was perfect from the foul line and four-for-six in the second half from the field while Hunt shot 62.5% from the field and 75% from beyond the arc, no longer content to live solely in the lane. Hunt also collected his GSAC-best 13th double-double with 13 boards in the win and would have finished a perfect three-for-three from beyond the arc if not for a missed triple in the closing seconds of the contest.

HIU improves to 25-6 overall with the win and will now play host to The Master's on Tuesday, Mar. 7 in the Darling Pavilion for the GSAC Tournament Championship – tipoff will be at 8 PM and the game will be carried once again on FOX Sports (check your local listings for the channel). Stay tuned to our website for a championship preview article coming soon!

 
M - Basketball
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