The Griffon men came together to send coach Tom Smith out with a 72-58 win over Southwest Baptist as he patrolled the sidelines for the last time at the MWSU Fieldhouse after 25 years of calling the building home.
“I was really relieved and it felt petty good,” Smith said. “I just felt like I was in the dentist chair all game. I thought we had some pretty good possessions at the end and it was good to win this last game. I tried to tell myself it didn’t mean anything, but it does.”
The win also guaranteed Smith would get to coach at least one more game as it clinched the final seed in the 12-team MIAA postseason tournament. Western improved to 10-16 overall and 6-12 in conference play.
Fans stayed in their seats after the game to pay tribute to Smith as he took the mic and thanked everybody in an emotional moment. A large group of ex-players made the trip to Saint Joseph to celebrate with their coach.
“The teary eyed stuff isnt because I’m leaving necessarily, but from seeing all of the players here,” Smith said. “It means a lot because we are talking about kids who don’t have a lot of money and everything else.”
The Griffons have played at a higher level on the road than at home this season, with a 1-6 record coming into the game. Smith stressed to his team before the game to ignore all the hoopla and celebration of his career and focus on the outcome of the game.
“He wanted us to come out here and just play,” guard Kalvin Balque said. “Amongst all the stuff that was going on today, he just wanted us to come out and get the win. If we would have lost, it would have hurt him.”
The Griffons wasted no time taking control of the game as they were up 22-11 after a Balque dunk, one of three on the afternoon. Western went into halftime with a 33-19 lead.
Southwest Baptist was able to close the gap after some cold shooting from the Griffons, and cut it to 47-42 with five minutes to play. The Griffons got their focus back and made some big plays down the stretch to pull away for the win including two highlight-reel worthy alley-oops flushed home by Balque.
“I get real amped after catching the oop and it gets the crowd and my teammates into it,” Balque said. “I know I can go get it and dunk it, so that’s what I do. Coaches want me to show off my athleticism.”
Cedric Clinkscales posted a double-double for the Griffons with a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds. Clinkscales was named an honorable mention on the MIAA all-conference team.
“Again, it’s my teammates,” Clinkscales said. “Once they seen that I was scoring then they kept getting it to me. Baptist wasn’t playing me as aggersiive as some of the other teams in the conference has. They were on their heels.”
Balque added 17 points off the bench on 7-for-9 shooting and stole the ball two times.
The game was also the last home game for seniors Alex Tuluka-Mfumupembe, Dylan Frantz. Both seniors made some strong hustle plays on the offensive glass and impacted the game on their final night at the Fieldhouse after spending two years in a Griffon uniform.
“We always felt like we were the team that could beat other teams in this league,” Clinkscales said. “It just wasn’t happeneing for us, but now we need to seize this momentum going into the tournament.”