Wednesday was a big day for the Saints.
Carroll College guard Zach Taylor was named the Frontier Conference Player of the Year, the conference announced in a release, in the afternoon. Then, in the evening, the team gathered in a campus dorm to watch the NAIA Men's Championship selection show, where they learned of their anticipated No. 1 seeding and first-round matchup.
Taylor guided the Saints to regular season and postseason conference titles, the first time the Saints had accomplished the feats since 2010-11 and 2005-06, respectively.
The unflappable senior averaged 16.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.2 steals each night. He was the catalyst for the Saints, providing a consistent threat on offense and lifting the Saints when the team needed it. His knack for knocking down the 3-ball earned him an invite to the NAIA’s 3-point contest. His 51 percent clip from beyond the arc is second best in the NAIA.
Taylor was also named a first-team all-conference performer, joined by junior forward Ryan Imhoff, the team’s bull down low. Imhoff led the Saints in scoring and rebounding with 17.5 points and 6.6 rebounds each night. The forward also defeated the double-team, racking up 93 assists on the season, second best behind Taylor.
"We're happy for Zach Taylor and Ryan Imhoff," coach Carson Cunningham said. "They've both had a magnificent season, and they've done it within the context of a fantastic team effort with a slew of players on our roster who have played magnificent basketball this season. What a fun group to be a part of."
Montana Western’s Steve Keller was named the coach of the year, after the Bulldogs advanced to the semifinals of the Frontier Conference, but were defeated by Lewis-Clark State in Dillon.
Bulldog junior guard Dom Robinson earned the Newcomer of the Year award.
Western also came away with the Freshman of the Year, as Zaccheus Darko-Kelly nabbed the honor.
Rocky Mountain College’s junior guard Chad Kananen was selected Sixth-Man of the Year.
MSU-Northern's junior shot-blocking forward Ryan Reeves was selected as the Defensive Player of the year.
Saints sophomore forward Match Burnham and Matt Wyman landed on the honorable mention all-conference teams. Burnham was the Saints’ third leading scorer with 11.7 points per game in 20 games this season. He was a large part of what allowed the Saints their early season success before he went down with a wrist injury. He is expected to make a return at the national tournament.
Wyman has been touted as the Saints most efficient player. The versatile forward shot 64 percent from the floor, 35 percent from the 3-point line and 80 percent from the free-throw line while averaging 8.7 points and 4.5 rebounds each night.
With the team and a small group of family and supporters gathered for a low-key watch party in the lobby of St. Charles Hall, the Saints heard their name called out just minutes into the broadcast. Ranked No. 4 nationally, Carroll earned a No. 1 seed in the tournament and will face Mount Mercy (Iowa), which was designated as the host berth this season. It is Mount Mercy’s (21-11) first trip to the national tournament, though the school has made NAIA Division II tournaments in past years.
“We were hoping for a one seed and are grateful to have earned one,” Cunningham said. “It’s quite an accomplishment for the fellows. The tournament is chock-full of tough teams. Mount Mercy can score. We’re going to have to come ready to play some ball.”
This will be Carroll’s 11th trip to the NAIA tournament, where the school holds a 9-10 all-time record. This is the second consecutive year the Saints have made the field and overall the team has reached the game’s biggest stage in 1966, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2016.
The other No. 1 seeds at the tournament include undefeated LSU Alexandria (31-0), William Penn of Iowa (30-3) and Dalton State of Georgia (27-4).
The Frontier Conference will send three teams to the tournament, as Montana Western earned an at-large bid and a No. 4-seed. Lewis-Clark State also received an at-large bid, grabbing a No. 14-seed.
The tournament tips off on Wednesday, March 15 in Kansas City.