In a game that lived up to its billing as an offensive shootout, the Montana Western men’s basketball team got the defensive stops it needed in the final two minutes to hold off Lewis-Clark State, 91-85, in the Frontier Conference Tournament semifinals in Dillon on Friday night.
The second-seeded Bulldogs advance to face top-seed Carroll College in the championship in Helena on Monday night. Carroll beat Rocky Mountain, 79-67, in the other semifinal.
Western, which led just 43-41 at halftime, came out hot in the second half and pushed its advantage to as much as 10 in controlling nearly the entire period. But LCSC finally crawled all the way back to take an 83-82 advantage on Andre McCowan’s layup with under three minutes remaining.
After trading a pair of quick buckets, Dillon native Troy Scott connected on a tough and-one putback through hard contact — his only points of the night — that put the hosts back on top for good at 86-85 with two minutes left.
The Warriors’ next two possessions ended in frustration as the Bulldogs’ defense locked down, and a Marcus Payne floater gave Western an 88-85 lead. The Bulldogs missed a pair of opportunities inside to close out the win, though, and breathed a sigh of relief when Trea Thomas’ potentially-tying 3-pointer off an inbounds play missed its mark for LCSC.
Point guard Dom Robinson hit three of four free throws in the final seconds to provide the final margin.
Kooper Kidgell led five Western scorers in double figures with 21 points, with all 11 of his second-half points coming in the first 10 minutes after the break. The Bulldogs hit five 3-pointers in that stretch, matching their output for the entire first period. The hosts finished 10 of 25 from deep, with Kidgell and Warren Helligar hitting three treys apiece.
Helligar scored 12 of his 14 points and hit all of his 3-pointers in the first half, when Western maintained a slim advantage despite shooting a worse percentage, being outrebounded, and being handily outscored inside.
Brandon Jones added 19 points and nine rebounds for the Bulldogs, while Robinson finished with 17 points and Zac Darko-Kelly chipped in 12.
The Warriors also had five scorers in double figures, led by Race Martin’s 19 points. The visitors finished 7 of 19 on 3-pointers.
Carroll College has won two of its three games against Western this season, including an 82-62 victory in Helena on Feb. 24. The winner of Monday’s championship gets the league’s automatic bid into the NAIA national tournament.