No. 4 seed Montana Western led throughout much of the game, but had to hold off a late rally from No. 5 seed LSU Shreveport (La.), to win the final first round contest at the 2017 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship in Kansas City, Mo. Montana Western will play No. 1 seed Dalton State (Ga.) in the Liston Bracket Friday at 9:15 p.m. CST in the NAIA National Championship Second Round.
“We shot really well in the first half, which gave us confidence,” said Montana Western Head Coach Steve Keller. “Dom Robinson got the team going early on, and put on a great effort. The team is playing without worrying about any risk, it’s the way we’ve been playing all season.”
Dom Robinson led the Bulldogs (25-7) with a tournament-high 32 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the floor. Robinson added seven assists. Shyke Smalls added 25 points and Kooper Kidgell finished with 11 points. (Box Score)
LSU Shreveport took an early lead, putting Montana Western into a 6-4 deficit within the game’s first three minutes of play. The Bulldogs responded and strung together an 8-0 run, capping the stretch with a Zaccheus Darko-Kelly field goal to put Montana Western in front, 12-6 with 16:15 to play in the first half.
The Pilots cut their deficit to 12-9 moments later, but that’ as small as the Bulldog lead would be through the rest of the game. Montana Western’s advantage stretched out to double-digits for the first time at 22-11 after Kooper Kidgell scored two of his 11 points with 12:19 to play before halftime.
Montana Western maintained its lead through the rest of the half, and a field goal from Riley King just before the end of the half put the Bulldogs up 53-37 at the break.
Montana Western gradually added to its lead through the opening nine minutes of the second half. Robinson hit a three-point field goal with just over 11-minutes to play in the contest, extending the advantage to 76-55, the largest lead of the game.
LSU Shreveport worked back into the game, and a three-pointer from Benjamin Batts with 1:34 to play cut the Bulldog lead back to single-digits, and Batts hit a free throw to finish a four-point play, to put the Pilots in a 92-85 deficit. Rashard Owens followed a pair of Montana Western free throw misses with a three-point field goal to cut the Montana Western lead to 92-88 near the one-minute mark. Montana Western pulled away from there, and built another double-digit lead, eventually earning a 99-94 win.
“I’m really proud of the way the guys played throughout the entire game,” said Keller. “Our guards gave a great effort, and we were able to hold our own on the boards.”
Benjamin Batts led the Pilots with 21 points, while Greg Pollins added a career-high 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Also in double-figures were Josh Walker, with 15 points, and Uzonna Akazi with 13 points. LSU Shreveport scored 18 second-chance points and scored 21 points off 20 Bulldog turnovers.
“We got beat by a really good basketball team today,” said LSU Shreveport Head Coach Kyle Blankenship. “When at the national tournament, you can’t trail by 21 points and expect to come back. I am proud of our guys for cutting it down to single digits. We had a great year and hopefully we learn from this experience, getting back to the tournament again.”
LSU Shreveport finishes its season with a 20-10 record.
Montana Western Notes
Dillon, Montana, home of Montana Western, has the highest elevation of any team’s hometown at the 2017 tournament (5,118 feet)…The Bulldogs scored 53 points in the first half, the most first half points scored by any team so far at this year’s tournament, and the most since Mid-America Christian (Okla.) scored 55 points in the first half in last year’s national semifinal game… Montana Western’s 14 national tournament appearances is the most among program’s from the state of Montana…The Bulldogs are now 7-7 all-time in first round games…Five of those first round wins have come since 2010…The 94 points given up is the most in a win this season for Montana Western…The Bulldogs improve to 6-3 against teams in this year’s national championship field.