HELENA -- The first game of the season wasn’t so much about the end result, a 50-point win for the Carroll College Saints.
It wasn’t about the points, dunks, assists and turnovers -- though there were plenty of those. It wasn’t even about the win, though that was certainly the goal.
Carroll College’s first game of the season was about the process, and, with a 103-53 win over Yellowstone Christian Saturday night in the PE Center, the process is well underway.
Pregame started as many basketball pregames do: with players going through stretches and warmups. Coaches, new players and even veterans all smoothed out their routines, bringing a sense of familiarity and focus to the task at hand.
It was far from perfect, but the first game of the season isn’t supposed to be. For the freshman, especially, mixing up drills or finding places to simply exist can require more thought.
Once the game started, the Saints did not look terribly far off from the Saints of springtime.
The Saints’ height instantly became an advantage. Carroll scored six of their first 10 points on alley oops, lob plays or just by having an advantage in the key.
Carroll’s defense also almost instantly overwhelmed the Centurions, pressuring them on drives, closing out on three-point attempts and getting into passing lanes.
“Carroll’s a great program and they have a great tradition,” first year Yellowstone Christian coach Isaiah Boxell said. “We’re trying to get a little better each day. We’re able to play a great team and hopefully we’re able to learn from it.”
Carroll finished with 32 assists as Alejandro Santos Piqueras’ seven dimes led the way.
“Anytime you get over 30 assists in a college basketball game that’s really neat,” Saints coach Carson Cunningham said. “It’s hard to do. Sharing the apple, cutting, that was neat to see. At this point in the year we’re going to have things we need to work on.”
While Carroll undoubtedly looked to polish up its execution, it quickly became clear Carroll’s physical measurements alone would hamper the Centurions. Yellowstone’s tallest player is Joseph Hooker, who is listed at 6-foot-6. Carroll, on the other hand, features four 6-foot-8 players, and plenty of other length that gave Yellowstone fits.
Carroll’s defense pushed the Centurions away from the paint and made them anxious jump shooters. Many Yellowstone drives resulted in errant shots or passes, jump-starting the Saints’ fast-break attack. The Centurions shot 3 of 28 from beyond the arc.
The Saints had five members of the team score in double figures, including freshman Brad King, who checked into the game with about 11 minutes remaining. As the veterans got the majority of the minutes, the freshmen received a chunk of time to whet their chops.
King operated primarily out of the post, and showed some nifty touch around the rim. How large a role he has this season remains unclear, but King will be available.
“We have a great group of guys, so to do it with them makes it more special,” King said. “It’s great to get out there, really, and get the first win. I’m always so ready to go out there when coach calls my name and give it all I can. I’m going to contribute the most I possibly can in the role I have. Hopefully we have great team success.”
Freshman guard Chase Burnham also came off the bench with a little over 11 minutes remaining. Burnham said the first game gave him a chance to work through jitters and try to find the rhythm of pregame and the game itself.
“It was a great experience for me,” Burnham said. “I didn’t really know what it would be like playing against other college players. It was a lot of fun to get out there and compete. I love the guys. They’re a lot of fun to play with. It’s just cool to see we all share the ball well.”
As the freshmen got some run, one did not. Emilio Mancol did not play as he returns from a meniscus procedure.
Senior Oliver Carr was also missing. Carr interviewed as part of a dental school application at the University of Washington on Saturday. He’ll be back for the Saints’ game on Sunday against Salish Kootenai.
“It’s something that he talked about well in advance and we fully supported his decision,” Cunningham said. “Sometimes managing that process of getting into medical or dental school is not something you get to map out.”
Yellowstone is an upstart program, entering its third season, and first under Boxell. The Centurions compete in the National Christian College Athletic Association. Though some NCCAA teams will also compete in the NAIA, the Centurions are not one of them. It’s a program that hungers to compete with the likes of the Frontier Conference.
“We appreciate Yellowstone Christian making the journey,” Cunningham said. “They were scrappy and played hard.”
Carroll tips off against Salish Kootenai at 4 p.m. Sunday in Pablo.