Westminster Christian Academy standout point guard Aaron Cook reminded his teammates in the locker room before the Wildcats faced Francis Howell that they needed to focus and take care of business on the court.
Cook did his part, and his teammates had his back as Westminster claimed it’s first-ever Mary Institute/Country Day School Holiday Invitational Tournament championship with a 60-53 victory over third-seeded Francis Howell on Wednesday night.
“I really feel like our guys understood the history of the moment and embraced it,” said Westminster coach Doug Coleman. “They stayed together and Westminster basketball has always been about family and just play together. Howell had a great game plan and we were able to overcome the adversity.”
Cook, who is headed to Southern Illinois-Carbondale next fall, exploded for a game-high 34 points and provided energy and leadership all night for the athletic and explosive Wildcats.
“I really just made sure they came out focused and came out ready to go for the game,” Cook said. “Not too excited for the game or backing down for the challenge. We came out just right.”
Westminster ((7-2) raced out to a 14-7 lead behind a Steve Webb jumper, a Jordan Hawkins bucket, and a layup by Cook.
Howell (7-3) weathered the early Wildcats run and pulled ahead on a Brett Elifritz three-ball 19-16 with 3:38 left in the second quarter.
A 7-0 Wildcats run keyed by a Webb bucket gave Westminster a 26-19 lead at the intermission.
Cliff DeGroot also had a big night as the junior guard pumped in 13 points.
Howell continued to stay close as the Vikings put within 32-31 late in the third quarter.
But the one strength that the Vikings could not do anything about was Cook and his dazzling ball-handling, shooting from the outside, defense, or contain him from getting to the rim. Cook rattled the rim for three highlight-reel slam dunks including the first one which shook McDonnell Gymnasium, and had the crowd going bananas.
“I was real happy with our composure the second half,” Howell coach Kurt Jacob said. “I was happy that we understand what our strengths are and we went to them.”
“What he does a lot is keep our guys pumped up and focused, it’s beyond words.” Coleman said.
A pair of Logan Bush free-throws brought Howell even at 44-44 with just 3:57 left.
That was the last chance the Vikings would have to shot at the lead as Cook scored seven of the Wildcats last 16 points to key a 16-10 run to secure the Westminster’s first tournament title in three attempts.
“It’s definitely a big win, the first MICDS championship for Westminster ever, so it’s really really good feeling that we came out here and made history for Westminster and that was the agenda.”
Francis Howell, which lost its first appearance in the MICDS title game got a team-high 11 points from Logan Bush and 10 points Brett Elifritz and Zack Reader.
“Defensively our effort was pretty good, offensively we just didn’t knock it down,” Jacob said.