Warriors lose battle in Utah; season comes to an end
SALT LAKE, CITY, Utah – It seemed liked every shot was contested, every rebound was wrestled for, and every moment mattered in the Lewis-Clark State College men's basketball team's war with Westminster College in the opening round of the Frontier Conference playoffs on Wednesday night. When the smoke of hustle plays and exciting basketball cleared, the Warriors saw their season come to a close with an 82-70 loss at the hands of the Griffins.
The Warriors end the year with a mark of 16-12, their first winning record in three seasons.
As was the pattern in many of their losses this year, the Warriors proved they could hang with their opponent for majority of the game but couldn't find a way to close it out down the stretch. LCSC lost the lead or fell out of reach in the final five minutes of multiple games this season, and Wednesday's game was no exception.
Regardless of the final outcome, however, nobody will be able to say that the Warriors didn't give it all they had. They looked like they knew they could win, and for the first 35 minutes of the game it almost looked like they were going to.
Early on, the Warriors matched the Griffins' strongsuit of passing the ball well to find the open man with a number of excellent passes of their own. A nice dish from David Johnson to a driving Derek Gianukakis gave the Warriors a 10-8 lead at the 13:49 mark, and a couple plays later Shane Miller found an open Jared Giammona who nailed a shot from three feet behind the 3-point line to extend the lead to 17-14 with just under 10 minutes left in the half.
The Griffins responded and pulled back in front in the next few minutes, but LCSC found a way to tie it at 19 apiece thanks to resilient offensive rebounding effort. What started as a missed layup by LCSC ended up to be a 15 second jumping battle for the ball. Five offensive rebounds and five shot attempts later, Johnson out-leaped the opposing players, collected the rebound, and tied the game.
This play helped swing momentum in LC's favor which led to Darin Stewart coming away with a steal and a thundering two-handed dunk just moments later.
Pushed by the play of Michael Stockton, who finished with 29 points, the Griffins slowly climbed away a little bit again, but Derek Gianukakis came to the rescue this time by burying a three in the final minute to cut Westminster's lead to 35-34 at halftime.
For the Warriors, it truly was a team effort as individuals seemed to step up at different moments to carry the load--especially in the second half.
Donnie Lao was the Warriors' offensive weapon to start the final half. When the Griffins' shooting started to heat up, the senior pulled it back to a 4-point game, 48-44, with a swoosh from behind the 3-point line.
Stockton answered this with a 3-pointer of his own, but Lao again landed from the outside on the ensuing play to make it 51-47.
After Lao, Alex King took the baton and used a couple smooth post moves to score back-to-back buckets and hold the Griffins' lead at four, 55-51 with just over 10 minutes left in regulation.
With a shooting percentage of 54.9 on the night, Westminster continue to pace the scoring, but the Warriors, aided by the extra-effort plays of Ray Stout and Gianukakis, somehow found a way to remain in the game.
Donte Roberts hit an inside jumper to make it 57-53 with 8:03 left, and then on the next possession converted a foul into two makes at the free throw line to make it 57-55 with 7:30 on the clock.
This two-point deficit was as close as the Warriors would come though, as the Griffins used a couple steals, some 3-pointers, and a whole bunch of free throws to put the game away.
Westminster, now 21-8, made 23-of-27 attempts at the foul line, which proved to be the major difference maker in the game. Stockton was 9-of-10 at the line.
Besides Stockton, who also had four assists and five steals, Gregory Tanner had a big night with 14 points and five boards, and Jake Orchard added 13 points and three boards.
As is fitting, LCSC was led in scoring by its four seniors. Johnson had 16 points, seven rebounds, and three assists; King had 15 points and five rebounds, and Gianukakis and Lao had eight points apiece. Roberts, a junior, also had eight points.
Stout finished with four points, four rebounds, and a number of hustle plays that don't show up on the box score. On defense, King had three blocks, and Gianukakis and Darin Stewart had three steals apiece.
Both teams finished with 10 steals and five blocks on the night, while LCSC had a 32-30 edge in rebounds. The Warriors, who shot 44.1 percent from the field overall, also led on the outside by shooting 6-for-18 from 3-point territory to Westminster's 3-for-9.
The Griffins move on to face Carroll College in the semifinals at home on Saturday.