BILLINGS, Mont. – After falling into a pattern of second-half rallies but not being able to quite get over the hump, the Lewis-Clark State College men’s basketball team took a different approach on Saturday and came up with perhaps its biggest win of the season.
The Warriors took the lead for good with about four minutes left in the first half and used two free throws from Daniel Williams in the final 30 seconds to turn the tables and spoil Rocky Mountain’s comeback bid and beat the defending NAIA national champions 82-75.
The win improved LCSC to 14-13 overall and 5-8 in league play, while Rocky falls to 5-7 in league and 10-17 overall with its fifth straight loss. With just one regular season game left against Westminster, which has wrapped up the league title, the Warriors can finish no worse than .500 in the regular season.
LCSC managed to match RMC basket for basket early as the lead switched hands 13 times in the first 15 minutes of the first half with neither team able to gain more than a four-point advantage. However, a bucket by sophomore guard Terrell Wallace but LCSC ahead 29-27 with 3:58 and the Warriors would never trail again.
Wallace’s bucket started a 10-3 run for LCSC. Junior guard Jared Giammona had half of the points with a 3-pointer and a jumper, while Markus Monroe ended the run with a three-point play. Monroe also hit a field goal right before the halftime buzzer to give the Warriors a 39-32 lead at intermission.
In the second half, the Bears cut the lead to five twice early, but the Warriors were able to run the margin up to 11 points and 52-41 with 13:46 left. A 7-0 run by RMC cut the margin to four, but a bucket and a free throw by Williams gave LCSC some breathing room.
Although LCSC pushed the lead back up to nine on five occasions, RMC wouldn’t go away. The last nine point lead came when Williams hit a field goal with 4:29 left for a 71-62 advantage.
Rocky cut the margin to 76-72 with 58 seconds remaining on a 3-pointer by EJ Ross and had a chance to get closer after Wallace missed two free throws with 46 seconds left. Rocky, however, turned the ball over before it could get a shot off and had to foul Williams, who pushed the lead to six points at 78-72 with 30 seconds left with a pair of free throws. Giammona added two more free throws with 21 seconds left, while Monroe added a bucket for good measure. Nate Richardson’s 3-pointer at the buzzer pulled Rocky within single digits.
The Warriors, with only eight healthy players for the game, placed four players in double figures scoring and managed to avoid having anyone foul out although four players did end the game with four fouls. Williams, a senior guard, led LCSC with 18 points and nine rebounds. He also added two assists and two steals. Giammona had 17 points, while Monroe added 17 and Tanner McIntosh finished with 14.
LCSC played without 7-foot senior James Craft for the third straight game because of a knee injury.
The Warriors also shot the ball well, which helped them to their second-highest output of the conference season. LCSC scored 87 points last week in a win over Montana Tech.
On Saturday, LCSC hit 29-of-66 shots from the field for 52.7 percent, and was 6-of-16 at the 3-point line. The Warriors also did well at the foul line with an 18-of-23 effort.
Rocky Mountain hit just 25-of-61 shots for 41 percent, and was 10-of-29 from the 3-point line for 34.5 percent. Rocky did have a 38-29 rebounding edge, including a 14-4 advantage on the offensive boards.
Ross led Rocky with a game-high 21 points, but was just 6-of-15 from the field. Anthony Allen finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
The Warriors forced 17 turnovers in the game, which helped it to a 19-7 advantage in points off of turnovers. LCSC also had a 34-26 advantage in points in the paint and despite its lack of depth, LCSC had a 29-17 advantage in scoring from its bench.
LCSC wraps up the season next Saturday in Salt Lake City against Westminster. LCSC can still finish as high as fourth in the league standings, but would need to win that game and have Carroll lose twice and Rocky Mountain once next week. The Warriors can finish no worse than sixth.
For the conference tournament, which starts March 2 for the men, the top four teams from the regular season will play host in the opening round.