SPOKANE, Wash. – The Lewis-Clark State College Warriors made one of the nation’s best basketball teams work for everything they got on Thursday night in a 104-57 loss to No. 12 Gonzaga University at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The Warriors (9-0) stayed unbeaten after the exhibition loss, but the contest counts in the Bulldogs’ season record. Gonzaga improved to 7-0 with the victory.
It was always going to be an uphill battle for the Warriors against a multi-faceted Bulldog squad that at times played a pair of 7-footers together against LCSC, whose tallest players are 6-foot-6.
The Warriors were the smaller team, but were able to stay within striking distance of the Zags well into the first half thanks to a pair of momentum-driving 3-pointers by redshirt freshman Trey Sobotta.
The second of the Clarkston native’s triples brought the Warriors to within seven points at 22-15 with 8:44 to go in the first half.
“It’s not easy when you get in a moment where they’re making plays and you’re making mistakes,” LCSC coach Brandon Rinta said. “But our guys have no reason to hang their heads. I thought we did a good job overall. Someone had to get us started, and Trey was that guy tonight. Those shots he made let everyone kind of sigh out there and got us going.”
The Warriors continued to battle in the first half, capitalizing on a few missed shots by Gonzaga to get within 11 at 36-25 on a 3-pointer by Jacob Champoux, one of a number of LCSC efforts that quieted the sellout crowd of 6,000.
But LCSC had turnovers on four consecutive possessions in an 85-second span late in the first half, and Gonzaga turned the 11-point advantage into a 21-point gulf in the blink of an eye.
In the first half, whenever Gonzaga needed buckets they were able to go inside against the smaller Warriors.
Gonzaga’s first 17 points of the game were scored within 10 feet of the basket, and the low-post trio of Kelly Olynyk (7-feet), Sam Dower (6-foot-9) and Przemek Karnowski (7-foot-1) shot a combined 14-for-16 (87.5 percent) in the first half.
“We had to exert a tremendous amount of energy on help-side defense,” Rinta said. “We said from the outset that if we were going to go down, we were going to make them beat us from the outside.”
The Zags made two of the four long-range shots they attempted in the first half, but showed how multi-dimensional their offense is in the second half.
Gonzaga sank nine of 16 from beyond the arc after halftime, and widened its lead as the Warriors struggled to regain its offensive momentum.
“There’s a reason they’re the No. 12 team in the country,” Rinta said. “They have a lot of different weapons, and some of those weapons weren’t even in the game tonight. One of the best shooters in the country (Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos) only made one shot tonight.”
The Bulldogs got 30 points on 12-for-16 shooting from redshirt freshman Kyle Dranginis, 21 of those coming in the second half.
Five other Gonzaga players reached double figures in scoring. The Warriors were led by 10 points from senior forward P.J. Bolte and nine points from Sobotta on three 3-pointers.
The scoreboard notwithstanding, the Warriors took valuable lessons away from Spokane on Thursday that can only help, as LCSC begins its Frontier Conference schedule on Dec. 15 against Great Falls.
“We didn’t have to completely transform ourselves, or change who we were to get shots tonight,” Rinta said. “We were prepared to, but we didn’t have to. We wanted to play inside-out and not give them second-chance opportunities. I thought we did a pretty good job of that. We came away with confidence because we competed with these guys.”
“Our takeaway tonight is how hard you have to play at this level,” said junior guard Robert Ellis, who had six points and three assists for the Warriors. “It’s tough during the game, because nobody wants to get embarrassed and we all want to win, but when we had a minute to think about it after the game it was pretty cool. It was the first time I’ve ever been in an environment like this, and I think a lot of the guys on this team felt the same way.”