LEWISTON, Idaho – Night after night, the No. 11 Lewis-Clark State College men’s basketball team keeps finding ways to win games, with different members of the roster playing starring roles.
On Saturday night, it was Joseph Moquino sparking the Warriors with his lethal outside shooting, and Robert Ellis’ all-around excellence to help LCSC withstand a second-half surge by Montana Western in a physical 82-69 victory.
The win, on the heels of the Warriors’ victory over No. 7 Westminster College on Thursday, lifts LCSC to 18-0 overall and 4-0 in Frontier Conference play.
LCSC’s success, coupled with Westminster’s Saturday loss at Montana Tech, gives the Warriors some breathing room in the conference standings heading into a two-weekend road trip at Rocky Mountain, Great Falls and No. 22 MSU-Northern.
Lewis-Clark State seems destined for a jump into single-digit territory in the first NAIA Division I poll of 2013, to be released on Tuesday. Now at 18-0, the Warriors have the most victories of any team in the nation.
“At this point in the season, given what this team has already accomplished, there are very few ways left to motivate them,” LCSC coach Brandon Rinta said. “There’s not too much left for me to say. This is all coming from them, and it was a good win for us tonight because there was some adversity there in the second half.”
After taking a 10-point lead into the locker room at halftime, the Warriors suffered some defensive lapses to start the second half that coincided with empty possessions on the offensive end.
When the dust settled, the Bulldogs erased an 11-point deficit and took the lead 59-57 when Kris Collins hit a pull-up 3-pointer with 10:12 left to play.
The teams battled back and forth until the 6:21 mark, when senior forward Nick Fromm hit a pair of free throws to put LCSC back up 65-63.
That was the beginning of a defense-fueled 15-2 run over the next five-plus minutes that drove the stake into Montana Western.
Ellis and Moquino got it going with consecutive layups following steals, and Ellis sank another tough pull-up in traffic to make it 71-65 Warriors.
When Ellis, who Rinta called the MVP of the weekend for LCSC after the game, found Danny Marshall for a layup to give the Warriors a 10-point lead with 2:46 left, the Bulldogs were effectively finished.
Ellis finished the game with 17 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals for LCSC, and Moquino led all scorers with 20 points thanks to a 6-for-8 performance from the 3-point line.
Five of those long-range bombs came in the first half alone, and it was a breakout game that was over a month in the making for the junior from Albuquerque, N.M.
“Joseph hurt himself in the Gonzaga game, and he had to miss a couple games after that and he got out of rhythm offensively,” Rinta said. “But I’ve been telling him that once he hit his stride that he was going to win some games for us. It’s been a different guy for us every night this season, and he and Rob were those guys tonight.”
On a night where P.J. Bolte and Jacob Champoux -- Lewis-Clark State’s leading scorers entering the game -- combined for just eight points on 2-for-12 from the field, the energy provided by Moquino, Ellis and Fromm (16 points) was needed.
But Rinta pointed to his team’s aggressive defense as the key in shutting down Montana Western.
“Our guys just started defending,” he said. “We got out in the passing lanes and disrupted them.”
The Warriors were also able to battle through any hangover from their emotional win over Westminster on Thursday.
“That was one of our challenges tonight,” Rinta said of a possible letdown. “It’s going to happen more and more times when you’re playing twice in a weekend. Thursday might have been a little bit more emotionally charged, but that’s what we’re going to face in this conference.”
After six straight games at home, Lewis-Clark State heads out on the road for the first time in over a month this weekend, but with a sense of perspective on what they’ve already accomplished.
“This is a special team,” Rinta said. “They’re embracing the journey that they’re on, while still trying to take things day by day. Nobody knows what’s going to happen the rest of the season, but these guys have changed the mindset of this program, where every time they step out onto the court they’re expecting to win. We’re ready to get out on the road and take that next step, but we’ve kept finding ways to win games.”