Even though Bill Dreikosen was rocking his 1970s-style green sport coat and plaid pants for good luck on Monday night, the Rocky Mountain College coach got everything he needed — and much more — from his Battlin’ Bears out on the court.
Between Malachi Roberts’ outburst of 3-pointers, Tyree Anderson’s spectacular dunks and Rob Nyby’s energetic play off the bench, Rocky successfully defended its Frontier Conference men’s basketball tournament championship in dominating fashion.
Roberts poured in 21 points — 19 coming in the first half — and the top-seeded Bears went on a remarkable 42-8 run during 12 minutes
spanning the first and second halves in taking down second-seeded Westminster College 93-64 in front of a loud, capacity crowd at Rocky’s Fortin Center.
“We played excellent basketball pretty much the whole game,” Dreikosen said as his players joyfully cut down the nets. “I was just proud of the kids.”
It was Bears’ fourth tournament title since 2002 — but the first one achieved at home — and No. 11-ranked Rocky, 23-7, also secured an automatic berth to the NAIA national championship tournament in Kansas City, Mo., with its sharp execution offensively and defensively against the No. 19-ranked Griffins, 19-12, from Salt Lake City.
“It’s really fun to do it with your home crowd,” Dreikosen said, shortly after being hoisted onto the shoulders of some of the school’s soccer players. “Then the whole campus gets to enjoy it ... It was a great atmosphere in the Fortin Center and an even better outcome for the Bears.”
Cheered on by a noisy student section that spent most of the night chanting and singing, Rocky broke the game open with a 20-2 scoring spree — including a 16-0 stretch that started with four consecutive 3-pointers — to build a 44-28 cushion by intermission.
Roberts, a junior guard, provided most of the thrilling moments by draining three 3-pointers, including the go-ahead trey from the top of the key that put Rocky ahead for good, 27-26, with 5:59 left in the half.
“My opportunities came to me,” Roberts said of his hot shooting. “I let the game come to me, as well, and knocked down the shots. That’s all you can really ask for.
“My coach told me not to think about it, and that’s exactly what I did. I took his word for it and made things happen.”
With Roberts lighting it up, but with senior stalwarts Joel Barndt and Jeremy Nicolas burdened by two fouls apiece and just four total points, the Bears also turned to their bench.
The hustling Nyby, a sophomore from Plentywood, provided five points — including a big 3-pointer — and he finished the game with seven points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
“I think our bench really did an outstanding job tonight,” Dreikosen said. “They came in and did what they needed to do, and even stepped us up a level in that stretch. “
Rocky, which knocked down 13 3-pointers on the night, extended its scoring frenzy in the second half, with the 6-9 Barndt and 6-6 Nicolas springing to life inside and out in providing 12 of the Bears’ first 14 points as the lead swelled to 58-32.
Then Anderson delivered back-to-back monster dunks — much to the delight of the crowd — after the Bears came away with steals.
On the second dunk, teammate Sian Lane, who finished with nine assists, penetrated into the paint and then just tossed the ball up for a trailing Anderson, who grabbed it and slammed it home with two hands.
“I was trying to tell him to put it off the glass,” Anderson said of Lane’s assist. “But he just threw it up, and I went to go get it and it was showtime.”
That rim-rattler put Rocky up 62-32 with 15:29 to go.
The Bears wrapped up their 42-8 spurt with two free throws by Anderson making it a 66-34 spread — and tying Rocky’s largest lead — with 14:02 to play.
“We played so good,” Nyby said. “Give props to Westminster, but we just knew that if we played our best we could come in here and beat anybody.”
Besides the 21 points and five 3-pointers by Roberts, who fouled out with 8:57 remaining, the Bears also received 14 points from Nicolas, 12 from Anderson and 11 from Lane.
The Bears shot 49 percent from the field, and held a 46-31 rebounding advantage.
“At the end of the day you just tip your hat and say ‘great job,’” Westminster coach Adam Hiatt said of Rocky’s overwhelming performance. “There’s not a whole lot you can do when you run into a buzz saw like that.”
The Griffins, who shot 33 percent, were led by the 24 points of Jordan Pryor and the 17 points and 12 rebounds of Tallon Robertson.
Westminster is expected to receive an at-large berth to the 77th annual NAIA Division I national championship tournament will take place March 19-25 at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
The NAIA will announce its final Top 25 poll and the 32 tournament qualifiers on Wednesday afternoon, followed by a selection show at 7 p.m. where the first-round pairings and championship bracket will be unveiled.