BILLINGS, Mont. – A tough road-game environment, an opponent hot from the outside, and too many turnovers was what it took to hand the third-ranked Lewis-Clark State College men’s basketball team its first loss of the season on Saturday night. The Warriors’ remarkable run of 18 straight victories came to an end with an 89-80 loss to Rocky Mountain College.
“They’re as talented as anybody in our league, and they’re not going to lose too many games when they shoot 11-of-22 from three,” LCSC head coach Brandon Rinta said of the Bears.
The loss dips the Warriors to 18-1 overall and 4-1 in the Frontier Conference, while Rocky Mountain is now 12-7 and 3-2. LCSC remains tied for first in the league standings with MSU-Northern (16-3 and 4-1), which was thumped by Westminster 82-50 on Saturday.
Rinta attributed the Bears’ scorching 50 percent performance from 3-point territory to three factors.
“They got some open looks in transition off of our turnovers, they got a few open looks from defensive breakdowns, and the other third (of their makes) just came from tough shots they hit.”
Rocky’s effort from the outside helped capitalized on the Warriors’ 19 turnovers, the team’s third highest total this season. The Bears enjoyed a 22-9 advantage in points scored off of miscues.
“It was mostly poor decision making on our part,” said Rinta in naming the reason for the high turnover total. “But I give Rocky credit. They’re a very talented team and they played very well tonight.”
Lewis-Clark State used a 60.7 percent shooting clip to hold a 38-37 lead at halftime, however, its shooting tapered off to 44.1 percent in the second half and this allowed Rocky Mountain to pull in front.
The Bears broke a 49-49 tie at the 13:37 mark with three consecutive 3-pointers and never surrendered the lead the rest of the way.
The Warriors were able to cut the lead to six a couple times down the stretch, and to seven in the final minute, but RMC fought off the comeback attempts by making eight of its final nine free throws. Rocky, which is ranked No. 8 in the nation in free throw percentage (74.4), made 20-of-26 attempts at the line on the night.
“I thought our guys played hard and battled hard. We just didn’t quite make enough shots.”
Rocky Mountain had five players score in double-digits. Jeremy Nicolas, a 6-foot-6 forward from France, turned in a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Malachi Roberts and Don Parham had 20 points apiece.
Jacob Champoux, a guard from Seattle, Wash., led LCSC with 26 points on 10-of-13 shooting and also had five assists. Danny Marshall, who had a game-high three blocks, and Joseph Moquino had 10 points each and were the only other Warriors to score in double-digits.
The Warriors led 35-34 in rebounds although Rocky had a 16-14 edge on the offensive end.
LCSC will face two more big challenges on the road next week when they travel to Great Falls on Friday and No. 10 MSU-Northern on Saturday.
“It’s not getting any easier for us next week,” said Rinta. “We’re going to have to find a way to be a little better than we were tonight if we want to win on the road.”