LEWISTON, Idaho – He’s quickly established himself as the go-to guy when the score is close and the buzzer looms, and on Saturday night he answered the call again. Jacob Champoux drove to the basket, pulled up fast in the lane, and drained a jumper with less than two seconds left to push the No. 11-ranked Lewis-Clark State College men’s basketball team past Montana Tech 65-63.
There was no question in LCSC head coach Brandon Rinta’s mind who the ball was going to.
“He was our first, second and third option. We wanted the ball in his hands, and he’s as good as it gets in 1-on-1 isolation situations. He’s just a winner. He normally gets off a much better shot than he did, but he put us on his back. I feel like it’s the fourth time he’s done that this season. He’s all winner.”
Video: Champoux hits game-winner in final seconds
Champoux, a 5-foot-11 guard from Seattle, Wash., came up huge for the Warriors in the team’s overtime win against Concordia (Ore.), hit a number of big shots down the stretch in a three-point win over Southern Oregon, and has provided a number of late-game shows this year, but none were as impressive as his clutch role against Tech.
Pushed by strong defense and a 50 percent shooting clip on the night, the Orediggers held a 33-27 lead at the half and stayed in front until the Warriors tied it at 54-54 with four minutes remaining.
Montana Tech quickly broke the tie with a two, but the Warriors answered with a three from Trey Sobotta to gain their first lead of the game.
Relentless in the paint, Tech continued scoring over the final three minutes, but Champoux responded with eight straight points, on 4-for-4 shooting, on four consecutive possessions. His game-winner was a no-doubter that barely grazed the net.
“That’s amazing,” said Rinta upon hearing that Champoux scored the team’s final eight points. “There have been a few games, not many, where things haven’t been going his way, but he stays aggressive. He has that mentality that he’s a scorer, and he has complete confidence in himself.”
“Oh yeah, of course,” said Champoux when asked if he liked the late-game responsibilities. “My teammates trust me to have the ball at the end of the game. I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”
Video: Post-game interview with Jacob Champoux
The Warriors, now 14-0 overall and 2-0 in the Frontier Conference, were searching for confidence after an uncharacteristic first half which saw them shoot 30 percent overall and 25 percent from the outside.
“That was a great ballgame, and if you guys didn’t notice, that’s a tough, well-coached team we played against. These games around Christmas are always a little scary, and we didn’t come out with the energy we needed to have tonight, and it almost cost us the game. It certainly cost us early, and to be really honest, we were lucky to win this game.”
The Orediggers (8-5 and 0-1) entered the gain ranked third in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage, yet surprisingly presented the Warriors with an onslaught of drives to the basket and, for the most part, it worked. Tech finished with a 40-24 advantage in points in the paint, while shooting 4-of-12 from the outside.
Oppositely, the Warriors, who have relied on their inside game much of the season, looked to the outside to get points on the board and make up a deficit that reached eight points in the first half and nine midway through the second.
Sobotta, a freshman guard from Clarkston, Wash., had only six points in the game, but both came via timely 3-pointers. The first he made near the six-minute mark to draw the Warriors to within one.
“Trey was huge, especially with the way they were playing us,” said Rinta. “We whittled down our rotation a little bit, and it was clear to everyone in the building that we were going to have to knock down some outside shots. He did that for us, and deserves almost as much credit as Jacob.”
LCSC ended up shooting 41.4 percent overall and 36.8 percent (7-for-19) from the outside.
Champoux, who was 9-for-13 overall and 3-for-6 from beyond the arc, had 23 points to go with five assists. Nick Fromm was the only other Warrior to score in double-digits as he had 10 points and six boards. P.J. Bolte, the team’s usual leading scoring, was guarded heavily and finished with eight points and seven rebounds.
The Orediggers were led by a near triple-double from former Warrior Daniel Simon. Simon, who played for LCSC in 2008-09, collected 14 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists. Adam Greger added nine points and eight rebounds.
The victory keeps the Warriors perfect as they head into Christmas break, a fact that Rinta says hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
“I’m going to wake up tomorrow the same way I have almost every day since this started,” said Rinta when asked about what he’s going to do tomorrow now that his team is 14-0. “I’m going to pinch myself, be confused for a half-hour or so and go about the rest of my day.”
“We just have a very competitive group of guys. Grades came out yesterday. We have 14 guys on this team and every one of them has a GPA over 3.0. I have never been part of team where everyone’s above a 3.0, and the reason they do that is the same reason we’ve been able to do what we’ve done on the court: they’re competitive. They’re competitive in the classroom and competitive on the court.”
The Warriors will get a chance to give their competitive nature a rest for a few days, but will, no doubt, return to form when they host Concordia (Alberta) on Dec. 30 and 31.
“They’re going to go home today and tomorrow and take a breather from each other and all of this, and get back here on the 27th. It’s going to be a great Christmas. We take tonight as a Christmas present.”