Lewis-Clark State tops LSU Alexandria, 69-66

Lewis-Clark State's Hailey Turner dribbles around LSU Alexandria's E'Layzha Bates during the second round of the NAIA Division I women's basketball national tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark on Friday. The Warriors won 69-66.

BILLINGS — Motivational tools come in all forms and all shapes and sizes.

Including the large chip resting on the shoulders of the players and coaches of the Lewis-Clark State women’s basketball program.

Feeling hurt after being left out of last year’s NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament, the Warriors have returned with a purpose, advancing to the quarterfinals with a 69-66 win over LSU Alexandria Friday morning at Rimrock Arena at MetraPark.

L-C State (22-11) will play defending national champion Freed-Hardeman at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The top-ranked and top-seeded Lions advanced with a 61-43 win over Lindsey Wilson to start Friday’s play.

It will be the third meeting between the two programs. The Lions have won both times with second-round victories in 2011 and 2014.

“Last year, we thought we got slighted and came back this season with a chip on our shoulder,” said Brian Orr, the Warriors head coach. “And we used that chip all season.”

L-C State was the national runner-up in 2017 and finished 18-13 in 2018.

Trailing by as many as nine in the second quarter, L-C State used a 7-0 surge to take the lead in the third.

The Generals pulled within 63-62 late in the fourth but Peyton Souvenir and Hailey Turner converted consecutive 3-point plays and Turner followed by slipping a pass to teammate Jossilyn Blackman for an easy basket.

“I wasn’t shooting very well, I had to figure something else out to help the team,” said Turner. “I had to find my teammates, get the ball to the hot hand.

“We stayed together, we never gave up. We kept finding a way and kept playing with confidence.”

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Blackman finished with a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds and Abbie Johnson added 12 points. Turner finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. Hannah Burland also had 10 points.

The Warriors survived 18 turnovers and limited LSU Alexandria to 35 percent shooting from the field.

“Their pressure gave us problems,” Orr said. “Eighteen turnovers … we were really lucky to come out with a win. Our defense carried the day for us. We had different people step up for us at different times.”

The Warriors had to survive a frantic final 20 seconds with the Generals missing their final two shots, including a 3-point attempt by Courtney Dawsey as time ran out.

“We just had to put a lot of pressure on their shooters,” said Turner. “Everybody knew they were going to go for the 3 and try and tie the game. We knew their game plan was to get the ball to their shooters.”

Kelsey Thaxton had a game-high 22 points for the Generals, including six 3-pointers. Twice, she converted four-point plays, making the three and the ensuing free throw.

Aja Law added a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. Dawsey finished with 11 points.

The Generals, making their first NAIA Tournament experience, finish 22-8.

L-C State closed out the regular season by losing its last three games, including to Montana Tech and Montana State-Northern, the bottom two teams of the Frontier Conference. The Warriors had started the four-game road swing with a win over Frontier regular-season champ Montana Western.

“Our team was up and down,” said Turner. “When the season was over we knew we were in the tournament again. Now everybody is 0-0 and we can start over.

“It doesn’t matter how you start, it’s how you finish, right? We’re not done.”

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Email Joe Kusek at joe.kusek@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJoe