Season comes to an end for Warriors
DILLON, Mont. – It wasn’t like the Lewis-Clark State College men’s basketball team needed a reminder, but Brandon Brown, Bridger Chambers, Tyler Hurley and the rest of the University of Montana Western team provided one anyway on Tuesday night.
The three sparked plenty of offensive fireworks and combined for 54 points to help the Bulldogs roll to a 78-56 win over the Warriors in the opening round of the Frontier Conference Tournament.
The setback, LCSC’s fifth straight, ended the season for the Warriors, the seventh seed in the tournament. LCSC, under first-year coach Brandon Rinta, finished the season at 16-13 overall, which is the second-highest win total for a first-year coach in program history.
LCSC, which struggled scoring at times in conference play, was up to the task Tuesday night early and even led on more than one occasion. However, after the score was tied at 19 with about seven minutes left in the first half, Montana Western outscored LCSC 59-29 until the final two minutes when LCSC scored the last eight points of the game.
LCSC did not lose a conference game this season where it scored at least 66 points. The problem for the Warriors is they only reached that total five times in 15 games against conference teams.
Montana Western, ranked No 13 improves to 23-8, including 13-1 at home, and advanced to the conference semifinals on Friday night where it will play host to No. 3 seed Westminster, which defeated Rocky Mountain on Tuesday night.
Tuesday’s contest followed that common theme of offensive consistency for LCSC. The Warriors got off to a good start and the contest was tied six times, the final one at 19. At that point, Brown hit a couple of 3-pointers and Western was able to up the lead to 36-27 at halftime, nearly doubling its first-half point total in the final six minutes.
“I thought we played well the first 15 minutes of the first half,” Rinta said. “And the last five minutes we turned the ball over and we weren’t getting back on defense, and the game got away from us.”
The Warriors found themselves down by 16 early in the second half before they cut the margin to 10 at 45-35. Western, however, whittled off a 19-4 run and took control of the game at 64-39.
“We just needed to get back on defense and get more people sprinting back because that is where they are really good – in transition,” Rinta said of his halftime talk. “We just weren’t able to correct that, even in the second half after talking about it again.”
Western led by as much as 30 twice in the second half.
While Western was shooting 58 percent from the field in the second half, the Warriors struggled with both shooting and taking care of the basketball. LCSC finished the game 21-of-53 from the field for 39.6 percent. The Warriors also committed 20 turnovers in the contest, which Western was able to convert into 19 points.
Western hit 27-of-53 shots from the field for 50.9 percent and was 9-of-17 (53 percent) from the 3-point line.
Hurley helped the Bulldogs early with 11 of Western’s first 22 points. He finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. Brown, the favorite to win the conference’s Player of the Year award, scored 15 of his game-high 24 points in the first half and upped his conference-best scoring average to 21.5 points per game. Chambers came to life in the second half with 13 of his 17 points.
Nick Fromm, who gave the Warriors an early boost, led the team with 11 points, while Darin Stewart added 10. PJ Bolte led LCSC in rebounding with seven and he also had three blocked shots and two assists to go with his six points.
“I thought we kept battling like we did all year long,” Rinta said. “The three seniors were trying to rally us, but we just had too many turnovers. But I thought our guys played hard.”
Stewart joined fellow starting guard Jeray Key and reserve post Ray Stout as the three seniors who played in their final game for LCSC.
“I really enjoyed working with this group of guys,” Rinta said about his first season. “I felt like we were getting better. We were working hard, getting better and improving every week.
“But it was almost like we poured all of our effort into the second half at Carroll (a 66-64 comeback win) and the tank was dry after that. All in all, it would have been nice to send the seniors out on a better note. But I thought this team came together and came close to maximizing their talent.”