PABLO, MONTANA -- Carroll, for the second time in as many nights, shared the ball and rode its unselfish style of play to a commanding victory over Salish Kootenai College on Sunday, winning 125-53.
“I thought we shared the ball really well,” Saints coach Carson Cunningham said. “Anytime you get over 30 assists in a college game is fantastic. The team picks up energy when they share the rock. I think it generally makes it easier to knock down shots and find the net. That was nice to see.”
Carroll finished with 36 assists as a team, including 20 in the first half, led by Ryan Imhoff’s seven.
From the opening tip, the Saints displayed a high-pressure, high-energy style of play, generating a 31-2 lead before SKC hit consecutive 3-pointers. Carroll’s defense swarmed Salish Kootenai and its fast-break offense got the Saints a bevy of easy buckets early on.
For Salish Kootenai, the game became a learning experience, coach Zachary Camel said. Camel figured the Bison would be highly unlikely to see a team of Carroll’s caliber of play when they prepare for their national tournament in the spring. Camel said while playing against a team like Carroll, players learn their physical and mechanical weaknesses, which become glaring against a much taller and athletic Saints team.
“I try to schedule the toughest schedule for our guys so when we get into our tournament we’re not going to see that level of team. We won this thing, heck, 11 times. I want our guys to have the experience of playing Frontier level players, and really good teams, so we can build and get ready for our tournament which happens in March and April.”
The games at home and on the road against Carroll and other Frontier Conference competition also give the Bison a greater goal: joining the conference. While the money isn’t there, and it’s hard to say when it will be, Camel sees Salish Kootenai in the Frontier someday down the road.
“There’s going to come a day when we’re in the Frontier Conference and we’re getting scholarship players and this will be all different,” Camel said.
Camel looks at Carroll and sees a team that picks the players it wants through recruiting and has a rock solid foundation, both academically and athletically. At SKC, he said, players are coming for schooling and, oh yeah, they can continue to play organized basketball if they choose.
“That’s all we want to do is give them an opportunity,” Camel said.
Cunningham appreciated the opportunity to play in the Bison’s gym. The Saints are believed to be the first varsity program in the Frontier to have played against SKC in Joe McDonald Gym.
“It was nice to come here and get a look at their gym,” Cunningham said. “It’s a very nice setting. They were gracious hosts. We learned from it and we just get ready for our next one.”
The Saints ran through a variety of lineups and spread playing time up and down the roster. Execution and effort were priorities of the Saints on Sunday, especially for younger players.
“We’re starting to get more of our offense in and everyone able to gather what we’re trying to do and simply learn a lot of the action,” Cunningham said. “For the young guys we’re kind of throwing a lot at them early.”
Seven saints reached double figures, led by Dane Warp’s 17 points and eight rebounds.
Carroll will begin to prepare for a road trip to Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon, on Oct. 28. Warner Pacific went 12-17 last season, a down season for the program given its history. The team made the NAIA DII national tournament in 2016.
“We just have to keep sharpening,” Cunningham said. “Our approach is getting better every day. We know Warner’s style of play. It’s a swift pace. It’s often a lot of zone traps. We’re just going to have to prepare.”