By Bill Foley
Andre McGowan rose to the occasion when the Lewis-Clark State College men’s basketball team needed him most Saturday night.
And the 6-foot-4 junior guard did so in an awe-inspiring way.
McGowan scored 23 of his game-high 34 points in the second half, and the No. 24 Warriors held off upset-minded Montana Tech for a 75-67 Frontier Conference victory at the HPER Complex. Stats
“Sometimes the game comes down to big moments and players making plays,” Montana Tech coach Adam Hiatt said. “Man, any time that they needed a basket, the wheels were wobbly for them, he stepped up and made big shots. That’s what players do.”
McGowan had a handful of momentum-stealing buckets. He also had a pair of dunks that Oredigger fans will be talking about for a while.
The second dunk was a killer.
With the Warriors clinging to a 70-67 lead in the final minute, and the Orediggers desperate for a defensive stop, Jeremy Franklin missed on a 3-point attempt. McGowan grabbed the rebound, took a step and threw down a thunderous one-handed dunk in traffic.
McGowan was also fouled on the play. Following the free throw, the lead was suddenly 73-67, and there were just 12 seconds left in the clock.
The first highlight-reel McGowan dunk came Tech’s John Chapman scored off a Chris O’Neill pass to pull the Orediggers to within 68-67 with 3:06 left.
McGowan stole the ball and soared high for a majestic two-handed dunk and a 70-67 lead.
“He’s long, bouncy and really athletic,” Hiatt said. “Those guys are hard to guard.”
McGowan scored 20 points in Thursday’s home win over Montana Western. Still, Hiatt said the Orediggers weren’t expecting the performance he put on Saturday night.
“He’s had a great week,” Hiatt said. “He played really well against Montana Western on Thursday. He hadn’t been extremely consistent to this point of the year, so we weren’t sure if we should maybe kind of change his focus, if we should worry about him. We didn’t, and played a heck of a game.”
That performance spoiled an otherwise inspired effort by the young Orediggers, who trailed 54-39 midway through the second half.
Thanks in large part to true freshman Nick Fitts, the Orediggers rallied to tie the game at 56. Sophomore Jake Miles hit a bucket to cap the 17-2 game-tying run.
Fitts scored nine of his 12 points in the second half to help the Orediggers get back into the game. All of Fitts’ points came from 3-pointers.
“He can do that in an instant,” Hiatt said. “He can make three or four right in a row, and just change the course of the game. He was a big factor in that comeback.”
The game was tied three more times before it ended. Thanks to McGowan, the Orediggers didn’t hold a lead in the second half.
Franklin was the only other Warrior to reach double digits in scoring. He scored 10 points. McGowan also matched teammate Race Martin to lead the team with seven rebounds.
Senior John Chapman got the start and scored 20 points to lead three Orediggers in double figures. Miles scored 10, while Trent Molesworth tossed in nine.
Tech also got six from Taylor England, four apiece from O’Neill and Derrius Collins, and two from Carson Dummer. Dylan Pannabecker started and contributed for the Orediggers, who fell to 5-6 overall and 0-2 in league play.
Collins grabbed a game-high nine rebounds. O’Neill dished out five assists, and Molesworth dished out four.
The Orediggers were playing without junior Iman Chatman. He injured an ankle in Tuesday’s loss at Montana Western.
Junior Kale Guldesth missed his third game with a sore knee. The Butte Central graduate said he expects to be cleared to play again on Monday.
The injuries helped lead to the Orediggers going super young for stretches Saturday. Hiatt was excited about what he saw by the young guys.
“You look at that stretch there,” the coach said. “We had true freshman Nick Fitts, true freshman Taylor England, we had sophomore Jake Miles out there, we had freshman Darius Collins out there. We had four freshman, a sophomore and a senior on the floor for a big stretch. That was kind of fun to watch. You can kind of see that the future of our program is really bright.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys who are playing against high-level seniors and juniors, and we’re competing,” Hiatt added. “We’re right there. We’re just a couple of plays away.”
The Orediggers are back in action Wednesday when they hit the road for an exhibition game against MSU-Billings.
Tech’s next game that counts will be Dec. 15 at Salish Kootenai College. After an exhibition game at Utah Valley University on Dec. 20, the Orediggers will play a pair of home games against Concordia University of Edmonton Dec. 27-28.
Tech’s next Frontier Conference game is more than a month away. That’s when the Orediggers play host to MSU-Northern Jan. 4 at the HPER Complex.