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Lewis-Clark State men's basketball falls to Evangel in NAIA national tournament Round of 16

Mar. 22—An almost perfect second half nearly made up for the 11th-seeded Lewis-Clark State men's basketball team's disastrous first half, but it wasn't enough as Warriors senior guard Davian Brown's potential game-tying 3-pointer went just right of the basket, giving the 15th-seeded Evangel Valor a 77-74 win in a Round of 16 game in the NAIA national tournament Thursday at the Municipal Arena in Kansas City, Mo.

LCSC came back from 22 points down to tie the game twice in the second half, but didn't have a lead the entire game against the Valor.

"On the one hand, it came down to the last possession, but the reality is it came down to the first half," LCSC sixth-year coach Austin Johnson said. "We were very poor in the first half. ... This is a disappointing finish to (the season), obviously. But the finish doesn't define the team. At halftime, we just talked about having more flow and more movement offensively, and they did a great job at that in the second half."

The loss ends the Warriors' season and wraps up a year in which LCSC fought through multiple injuries and team departures to get to Kansas City.

Here's how Thursday's Round of 16 contest played out:

LCSC puts itself behind the 8-ball

Before the Warriors (24-9) took the court on Thursday, Johnson described Evangel's offense as the best motion offense his team has seen all year.

Within the first few minutes of the game, it was easy to see why.

The Valor's quickness on offense resulted in two early 3-pointers from sophomore guard Garrett Davault — just his fourth and fifth triples of the season.

Evangel's speed was duplicated on the other end of the court and LCSC's offense sputtered.

In the first five minutes of the game, the Warriors mustered just four points on two baskets. LCSC in that timeframe had turned the ball over five times. It committed 16 for the game.

The first half was arguably the Warriors' most inefficient of the season. By intermission, they had shot 29.4% from the floor, 13.6 % from 3-point range and their turnover total had bumped up to 10.

LCSC's series of mishaps played to the tune of a 43-26 Valor (21-10) lead at halftime.

"Our guys did a much better job in the second half," Johnson said. "But we missed more wide-open 3s in the first half than we probably missed in the last 10 games combined. And you got to shoot it well (to win)."

The Warriors were in a similar situation not that long ago. On March 2, in an 82-80 loss to Oregon Tech, they almost made a 20-point comeback that fell short on a buzzer-beater by the Owls.

With an entire half still to play in Kansas City, Johnson's squad made the most of the last 20 minutes.

Warriors make final stand

LCSC wasn't able to have its usual efficiency from the 3-point line in the first half. So, the second-half strategy was pretty clear: share the ball more, drive to the paint and wear out Evangel.

It was a sound strategy — one that nearly worked. And Hamilton, the Cascade Conference's freshman of the year, was the main engine of that strategy.

The 6-foot-8 Fontana, Calif., native had nine of his 18 points in the second half and pulled in seven rebounds. He also sank five of his six attempts from the charity stripe.

The Warriors' emphasis on the old-school, grind-it-out in the paint approach in the final 20 minutes helped get them back in the game. But the 3-pointer also finally started to cash out for LCSC.

Senior forward Jaedon Bradley, the Cascade Conference's newcomer of the year, was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made 2-of-3 free-throw shots with 8:31 left in the game to get the Warriors back within single digits.

Junior guard Quentin Raynor made three 3-pointers on four attempts in five possessions. Those crucial points brought LCSC to within two possessions with under seven minutes left.

If those aforementioned players made up the engine for the Warriors' run, then senior guard Sam Stockton was the ignition that turned the engine over.

LCSC's primary ball-handler was tasked with several fast-break and play-setup situations in the second half. In his last 20 minutes as a Warrior, the Spokane native had four assists, five rebounds and four points.

"Sam Stockton this year is the epitome of resiliency," Johnson said. "And we flow so much out of his competitive steadiness. Our group, they don't quit, they don't back down. And tonight was probably one of our four worst games of the season and we still had a chance to win it."

LCSC tied the game twice in the last five minutes: a lay-in by junior guard Gorden Boykins to make it 66-66 and a free throw by Stockton with 3:47 remaining to make it 69-69.

Two back-to-back floaters by Davault, who finished with a game-high 22 points, put the Valor back up by two possessions.

Brown made a 3 to get it back to a one-point deficit with 27 seconds remaining.

The Warriors intentionally fouled and Evangel made both. Bradley made a lay-in after to get the game back within one with nine seconds left. Another intentional foul and two more Evangel free-throws later, and LCSC was down 77-74 with 4.8 seconds left. Brown's ill-fated 3-point attempt followed.

Cinderella run strikes midnight

The Warriors' loss to the Valor wraps up a season in which the team defied expectations the whole way.

LCSC had been working with an eight-man rotation since winter break, a far cry from its season-opening 104-64 win against Northwest Indian College on Nov. 8 when 13 players registered playing time.

It also wraps up the careers of seniors Stockton, Bradley and Brown. All three players have spent varying amounts of time in Lewiston: Stockton has been there all four years of his career, Brown was in his second and Bradley was in his first and last year as a Warrior.

All three seniors started their time with LCSC at different points in their careers, but all three bought into the team-first mentality that helped bring the Warriors to the Municipal Arena.

"L-C has a lot of great pride and tradition," Johnson said. "And any place like L-C, there's only so much more you can do with the program. And those guys moved the needle. They moved us forward. Sam Stockton played in three national tournaments. ... I don't know if anyone's done in one year what Sam did for us. ... Davian took a huge jump from year one to year two. He's always been a scorer but this year he's a much more complete player and defender and was pretty special. (Bradley) for being here for one year — he's an L-C State Warrior for life. He was all-in, gave his heart and soul to this program and his teammates and allowed us to coach him and to push him even though he was only going to be here for a short time."

This season has been one of the most impressive in Johnson's tenure as coach. And at its conclusion, the future looks bright for Lewis-Clark State men's basketball.

EVANGEL (21-10)

Davault 10-14 0-0 22, Alvarado 2-5 4-4 8, Mason 3-8 1-1 7, Pritchett 3-10 1-1 7, Hunt 2-3 0-2 4, Salvi 6-10 1-1 14, Coffie 3-10 0-4 6, Rodgers 1-2 2-3 4, Smith 1-2 0-1 3, Cavalier 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 32-65 9-17 77.

LEWIS-CLARK STATE (24-9)

Hamilton 6-10 6-8 18, Bradley 4-15 3-5 13, Lustig 2-5 4-4 10, Brown 3-10 2-2 9, Stockton 1-5 2-4 4, Raynor 5-14 0-0 14, Boykins 2-4 0-2 4, Peoples Jr. 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 24-64 17-25 74.

Halftime — Evangel 43, Lewis-Clark State 26. 3-point goals — Evangel 4-16 (Davault 2-3, Salvi 1-4, Smith 1-1, Mason 0-4, Pritchett 0-2, Coffie 0-1, Rodgers 0-1); Lewis-Clark State 9-36 (Raynor 4-13, Bradley 2-11, Lustig 2-2, Brown 1-7, Boykins 0-2, Stockton 0-1). Rebounds — Evangel 32 (Coffie 11); Lewis-Clark State 49 (Hamilton, Bradley, Stockton 9). Assists — Evangel 13 (Pritchett 7); Lewis-Clark State 15 (Stockton 5). Total fouls — Evangel 21; Lewis-Clark State 16. Technical fouls — none. Fouled out — Evangel 1 (Hunt). Attendance — N/A.

Kowatsch can be contacted at 208-848-2268, tkowatsch@lmtribune.com or on Twitter @Teren_Kowatsch.