Depth pays dividends in FC tourney title for LCSC men

LEWISTON, Idaho – The Lewis-Clark State College men's basketball team again answered the question how deep can it go on Monday night. The question that remains is how really deep can it go?

The Warriors again showed off their depth with another impressive performance by their bench to defeat Carroll College 79-70 in the championship game of the Frontier Conference Tournament at the LCSC Activity Center on Monday.

The win gives LCSC, ranked No. 6 in the country with a 28-4 record, the conference's automatic berth to the NAIA national tournament. It's at nationals where the Warriors are hoping to make a deep run - a really deep run – and show they are one of the NAIA's best.

The 79th annual NAIA Division I men's basketball tournament is scheduled for March 16-22 at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo. Pairings for the 32-team tournament will be announced on Wednesday afternoon after the final NAIA Top 25 poll is released earlier in the day.

Despite the loss, Carroll is still expected to receive one of the 17 at-large berths awarded. Carroll is 21-9 overall and is ranked No. 20.

In Monday's win, LCSC's bench scored 15 of the team's first 27 points to help it get out to a lead it would never relinquish. LCSC's bench outscored Carroll's bench 26-6.

"That's the thing we can continue to point to all year, our depth," LCSC coach Brandon Rinta said. "We are just a little bit deeper and I think that ultimately proved to be the difference."

The victory gave LCSC its second consecutive regular-season and tournament titles in conference play – a feat that has only happened once before in program history. LCSC also has won three of the last four conference titles under Rinta.

"It feels really, really good," Rinta said "I'm so proud of this team and what they have been able to do up to this point, especially for the seniors. For them to be able to play their last game on their home floor like this and to cut down the nets, what a special experience for them."

"It feels awesome," said Warriors senior Rich Tesmer. "Going out on top, you wouldn't want it any other way. Got thru it with some of my brothers; this is the most fun group I've been around."

It didn't come easy though. The Warriors only trailed twice in the game at 2-0 and 11-10. LCSC then went on a 13-4 run with Trea Thomas hitting a couple of 3-pointers while Jacob Wiley, who had a huge night with 24 points and 13 rebounds, added a dunk.

The Warriors got the lead up to 12 in the first half before they settled for a 40-33 halftime edge.

Nick Emerson, Isaiah Omamogho and Cammie Lewis hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, and Emerson hit a second to give LCSC its largest lead at 52-35 just three minutes into the second half.  Carroll made a couple of runs, but each time L-C answered, but the Saints wouldn't go away and cut it to three, 71-68 with 1:42 left.

That's when Wiley made a huge play that sealed Carroll's fate. The Warriors worked the clock down, but Doug McDaniel missed a 3-point attempt. A Carroll player appeared to have the rebound, but Wiley swatted the ball away to give LC a fresh shot clock. Wiley then scored on a post-up move with 52 seconds left, and the Warriors hit all six of their free throws in the final 33 seconds to claim the win.

"We did just enough," Rinta said. "Jake came up with that big duck in play there to stretch it back to five and we got some key stops. But I have to give Carroll credit. A lot of times, when we get up 17 points, especially in this gym, we usually keep rolling. They fought back They are a really good team. But our guys dug in and got some key stops down the stretch."

The Warriors put five players in double figures. Emerson finished with 12 points, four rebounds and four assists, while Thomas, McDaniel and Lewis added 10 points each. McDaniel also had six boards, while Lewis had four assists.

"The motiviation and the thought that this is the last time this team is going to play together at home helped me tonight," said Wiley. "My teammates and coaches trust me and when they are trying to get you the ball every play it's easy. Without these guys I wouldn't be able to do what I do. It was special tonight and we weren't going to send our seniors out with anything less than a win."

Along with his double-double and 10-of-16 shooting from the field, Wiley also had an assist, two steals and a blocked shot.

"He was really efficient with big rebounds and some big baskets," Rinta said. "Jake has been so consistent and that's really one of the big differences this year. He was really good last year. This year he's been really good and has consistently been able to score and rebound at a high level, especially in the last three weeks. He's almost been like a man on a mission, especially when he gets the basketball."

Matt Wyman led Carroll with 20 points on 7-of-7 shooting from the field. He also added a team-high seven rebounds.

The game matched the top two shooting teams in the NAIA and they didn't disappoint. LCSC, ranked No. 1, hit 29-of-58 from the field for 50 percent, while Carroll was 27-of-58 for 46.6 percent. LCSC also made nine 3-pointers in the game.

Rinta said his assistant coaches and the players have been the keys to the program's success while he's been the head coach.

"Definitely any winning you do helps with recruiting and I think that it just speaks to the direction that we are going," Rinta said. "There are still some steps we want to take as a program and we are going to have that opportunity in Kansas City. But to go back-to-back and even to win three out of four conference championships, that's a credit to a lot of good players buying into what we want to do and how we think we can be successful over the last four years."