Westminster Christian basketball coach Bruce Firchau turned to baseball vernacular Saturday to describe his team’s first-half play as futile “as Anthony Rizzo (of the the Chicago Cubs) swinging at a left-handed breaking ball.”
Along the same lines, Illinois Math and Science had the closers — two of them in forward Isiah Butler and center Matt Moranz — and turned back a late Warriors rally for a 51-43 Northeastern Athletic Conference victory in Aurora.
“Isiah is our guy,” IMSA coach Brad Snead said. “He’s inside-outside. He’ll play above the rim. He can shoot the three. As we go, he goes.
“He knocked down some threes early which gave us the early lead and we were able to pull it out and play at our tempo.”
Butler scored 19 points and hauled in 10 rebounds, while Moranz scored 13 and got inside for three fourth-quarter buckets that proved critical in allowing IMSA (5-8, 4-2) to defeat Westminster (9-10, 4-3) for the first time since the 2004-05 season.
“We got the ball inside for buckets by (Moranz) two plays in a row for some big motivation and momentum and were able to pull through,” Butler said.
Westminster had trailed by as much as 14, 33-19, in the third quarter after two of Butler’s six points in the quarter. But the Warriors rallied behind Sam Carani, who was playing with a bad cold but had 12 of his team-high 17 points in the second half.
The Warriors finally tied it at 41-41 with 2:50 left on a Dillon Rejman three-pointer after Caranz had made a hook shot for a 41-38 IMSA lead. IMSA then got Caranz the ball down low again and he banked in a short shot with 2:38 left for a 43-41 lead.
Westminster never tied it again.
“We went to a triangle-and-two in the last few minutes then to try and stop their two best scorers (Carani and Rejman) and it allowed us a couple extra defenders inside to shut them down,” Snead said.
Westminster failed to score the next three times up the court and Butler sank his third three-pointer of the game, then went to the line for four free throws when the Warriors resorted to ice the game.
“They had a good game plan,” Firchau said. “They were patient when they needed to be patient and Butler showed he is all-conference. His teammates complemented him well.”
IMSA beat Westminster on the boards 33-17 and made it tough for anything inside, especially in the first half before Carani loosened it up by hitting three third-quarter three-pointers.
“I thought our effort in the first 12 minutes was lax,” Firchau said. “It’s not the first time this season it’s happened and we’re searching for answers why.”
Robert Kleczynski finished with 13 points for Westminster, which hit just 30 percent (6-of-20) from the field in the first half.