KANSAS CITY, Mo. – One of the best seasons in the history of the Lewis-Clark State College men’s basketball program ended on Thursday in the first round of the NAIA Division I National Tournament as the Warriors couldn’t withstand a second-half shooting barrage by Culver-Stockton College in a 91-72 defeat.
After holding Culver-Stockton (25-8) to just 1-for-14 shooting from 3-point range in the first half, the Wildcats exploded to make 9-for-16 from beyond the arc after the break, and used the triples to open up an insurmountable lead over LCSC, which finishes the season at 26-6.
The Wildcats will move on to face defending national champion Concordia (Calif.) in the second round on Friday at 12:15 p.m. Pacific.
It was the first appearance at nationals in five seasons for Lewis-Clark State, which won its first 18 games of the season and captured its first Frontier Conference championship since 2007-08.
“It’s really difficult right now,” Lewis-Clark State coach Brandon Rinta said after the game. “We were hoping that we would represent our conference, our school and our community better back here. But we’re not going to look past what our guys have accomplished over a five-month period. Anyone who is a part of our program or close to it knows that these guys have overachieved and that’s because they’re a bunch of winners.”
The game Thursday marks the final time seniors Donte Archie, P.J. Bolte, Nick Fromm and Danny Marshall will put on a Warrior uniform, and each contributed against Culver-Stockton, as the Warriors overcame an early deficit to lead 30-28 at halftime.
LCSC trailed 15-6 seven minutes into the game, but settled down and took its first lead when Bolte scored off an inbounds play with 5:31 left in the half to put the Warriors up 20-19.
Lewis-Clark State was able to establish itself inside from that point, relying on Bolte and Marshall to carry the load offensively as they battled the Wildcats in the first half.
At the break, the Warriors led by two and held the perimeter-heavy Wildcats to just a single made 3-pointer, as top scorers Marshawn Norris, James Johnson and Austin Keaton combined to shoot 0-for-13 from long range.
The teams continued to trade leads in the first five minutes of the second half, but Culver-Stockton found the 3-point shooting touch, hitting on four consecutive possessions to assert control of the game.
“We knew they were capable of that,” Rinta said of the Wildcats, who attempted over 1,000 shots from 3-point range during the regular season. “They made one in the first half and then 9-for-16 in the second half. You have to give them credit. That’s what they do. We helped them a little bit. We weren’t great defensively in the second half and we had some breakdowns that got them going. If they get hot like that they can beat anyone in this tournament.”
While the Warriors missed some good looks around the basket, the Wildcats’ confidence swelled with every made bucket.
Keaton overcame his rough start to make 7-for-10 from beyond the arc in the second half alone, and finished with a game-high 25 points that all came after the break.
All five of Culver-Stockton’s starters finished in double figures, as the Wildcats widened their lead from two points to 13 in the span of just over three minutes to put Lewis-Clark State in a serious hole.
“Once they get going, they’re really hard to stop,” Rinta said.
Bolte finished the game with 19 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Warriors in both categories. The other three seniors were the Warriors’ double-digit scorers on the game as Marshall closed with 17, and Fromm and Archie had 10 apiece.
“We hope this is motivation for our underclassmen. We’ve all learned what an experience this is and we all want to get back here now that we know what we’re up against on a national level,” Rinta said.
Although Thursday’s loss was painful, it doesn’t erase all that the Warriors accomplished in the 2012-13 season, including having every player on the roster record a GPA of 3.0 or better during the Fall Semester.
“To go from seventh in the conference last year to conference champs this year, and to reel off 18 in a row…what a special group,” Rinta said. “These guys made some decisions starting at this point last year that they wanted to do something special with this season. It’s going to take a couple of weeks to figure out how the stars aligned to make that happen, but the bottom line is we’ve got a bunch of winners here. Not just guys that win ballgames, but guys that have a winning mindset that translates to all areas of their lives. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”