LEWISTON, Idaho – Despite being unranked and finishing fifth in the league standings, Rocky Mountain College suddenly looks like the team to beat in the Frontier Conference Tournament. The No. 5-ranked Lewis-Clark State College men’s basketball team fell to the red-hot Battlin’ Bears 79-72 in the semifinal round at the LCSC Activity Center on Saturday night.
“They were the better team tonight,” said LCSC head coach Brandon Rinta. “They’re a talented group of guys and they shot it well. They’re better than a 12-loss team.”
Being the top seed, the Warriors had hoped to claim the tournament title and the automatic bid to nationals that comes with it. They’ll now have to count on receiving an at-large berth to the 76th Annual NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship, which will be held in Kansas City, Mo., on March 13-19.
The NAIA will announce at-large berths when it releases the 32-team bracket at 5:15, PT, on Wednesday. The NAIA is providing a free live selection show, available online at www.naia.org.
“From what everyone tells me, we’re in,” Rinta said about his team’s chances of receiving a berth. “But this is my first time here, so when our name is called I’ll believe it.”
Being unranked, the Bears’ only real shot at making nationals is to win the conference tournament—and they played like they were well aware of that fact on Saturday.
Rocky Mountain (20-12), which has now won four straight, had five players score in double digits, led 33-27 in rebounds, and shot 52 percent from the field in the second half to come away with the win.
The Warriors put up a solid effort and led 36-35 at the break and kept it close for much of the second half, but the Bears turned up the heat down the stretch.
The game had 16 lead changes and 10 ties, with the final tie coming with a little under six minutes left at 64-64. Rocky Mountain broke the tie with back-to-back three and the Warriors were unable to make it less than a two-possession game the rest of the way.
Jacob Champoux led the Warriors with 22 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the outside. P.J. Bolte added 15 points, Danny Marshall had 12, and Donte Archie had 10. Robert Ellis led the team with a season-high 12 assists.
The Warriors shot 57 percent from the field in the opening half but cooled to 43 percent in the second. They shot 50 percent on the night, while Rocky finished at 49 percent.
Don Parham led the Bears with 18 points, Joel Barndt had 17, Malachi Roberts 16, Nile Finney 11, and Jeremy Nicolas 10. Nicolas and Parham led the game with eight rebounds apiece.
“They wanted it more I guess,” said Champoux. “But this is just going to fuel the fire. It is definitely going to make us work harder in practice.”
The Bears will play No. 15 Montana Western in Dillon, Mont., for the tournament title on Tuesday night. Western defeated No. 20 MSU-Northern 68-59 in the other semifinal game on Saturday night.