HELENA, Mont. – With an 84-65 victory over Carroll College, the No. 5-ranked Lewis-Clark State College men’s basketball team captured the 2012-13 Frontier Conference regular season title on Saturday night. It’s the program’s first title since 2007-08.
“I’m pretty much speechless,” said LCSC second-year head coach Brandon Rinta. “I’m just so proud of these guys. I could go down the list and give credit to all 11 of them for this accomplishment because they all deserve it. We’re not the most talented team in the conference. We’re not the most athletic. We’re not the biggest. But we found a way.”
The accomplishment, which stands as the fifth regular season title in program history, completes one of the team’s goals, but, more importantly, puts the Warriors in good position to make a run for the conference tournament title and the automatic berth to nationals that comes with it.
As the regular season champion, Lewis-Clark State earns a first-round bye, the No. 1 seed, and home-court advantage throughout tournament play. The Warriors will host a team to be determined on Saturday at 7 p.m., PT, inside the LCSC Activity Center.
“This is a great accomplishment, but I think they’re hungry for more,” Rinta said. “Hopefully this team has three more weeks of basketball left in it.”
Saturday’s victory, which came on the heels of a lopsided (84-65) loss to Montana Western on Friday, was made possible by a strong second half and a huge game from senior P.J. Bolte.
“They were embarrassed about yesterday,” Rinta said of his players. “They had such a bad taste in their mouth. We made it all business today. We were on a mission.”
The Warriors were led by 16 first-half points from Bolte and held a slim 33-31 lead at the break. In the second half, the team took its game to another level, shooting 74 percent from the field and quickly building a 20-point cushion.
“We did a much better job of getting the ball inside. Nick (Fromm) was in foul trouble all first half and stepped up really big in the second half.”
Bolte added another 16 points in the second half to finish with a season-high 32 on the night, and Fromm finished with 14 points, including 12 in the second half.
“He carried us in the first half,” Rinta said about Bolte. “And then when he came out and hit two threes to open the second half I knew this was going to be a special night for him.”
The Warriors, which outshot Carroll 52 to 42 percent from the field, ended up with a 53-36 advantage in points in the paint, and a 41-30 lead in rebounds.
Nick Jones led Carroll with 20 points. Chris McGrath added 13 points, and Dennis Mikelonis had 10.
LCSC finishes the regular season with an overall record of 26-4 and a league mark of 11-4. The Warriors are tied with the 2006-07 squad for second-most wins in program history. The record of 31 wins was set in 2003-04.
“It’s a special group of guys we have in this program right now.”
The first round of the conference tournament will be held on Wednesday. The No. 6 seed Great Falls will travel to No. 3 MSU-Northern, and No. 5 Rocky Mountain will travel to No. 4 Westminster. LCSC will face the lowest seed that advances. Montana Western, which finished a half game out of first in the standings, is the No. 2 seed and also receives a first-round bye.