HELENA — Alejandro Santos Piqueras nailed two big shots and Lorel Johnson hit one of his own as the No. 6 Carroll College men's basketball team held on for a 69-64 Frontier Conference win against Lewis-Clark State College on Thursday in the PE Center.
Santos, while the Saints were desperate for offense, gave his squad a lift when he hit a pull-up jumper with two minutes to go. A little later, he hit an incredibly tough 3-pointer to give the Saints a monstrous lift and a little breathing room against the Warriors’ late game.
He finished with 11 points, two rebounds, two blocks, one steal and one assist.
“That’s my teammates keep finding me,” Santos said. “I missed a couple early on. They told me to keep going, stay confident. They found me. I just made big shots.”
If confident shooting was contagious, Johnson certainly caught the bug.
After a Jeremy Franklin 3-pointer cut the Saints’ lead to three, Johnson found the ball in his hands in a late shot clock situation. Johnson splashed a three and the PE Center went ballistic.
“Actually it was just shot clock winding down and lack of pressure so I just shot it,” Johnson said.
“Let it fly,” Santos said.
Johnson added in 11 points, three rebounds, two steals and an assist.
The stone-cold fact of the situation is Saints (24-5, 12-5) earned a 2-1 series win over Lewis-Clark State College (21-8, 11-7) on Thursday with the win.
The context to that win, like so many Warriors-Saints battles, is one that shows two deep, talented teams and a game that came down to the final few possessions.
“Against a good team like Carroll you have to take care of the basketball,” Lewis-Clark State College coach Brandon Rinta said. “For us to have nine turnovers in the first half … they did knock down some shots, but the turnovers is what allowed them to have that separation in the first half.”
Carroll took an 11-point lead into halftime before the Warriors won the second half.
A large part of the Warriors second-half come back came on the back, and the shoulders, and the deft touch of junior forward Race Martin.
The big fella finished with a team-high 17 points, but while his team trailed by six and after so many strong buckets throughout the game, Martin’s touch betrayed him (he felt he was fouled), and the Saints held the ball with 16 seconds and a six-point advantage.
Carroll senior forward Ryan Imhoff led all scorers with 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting. He had a game-high seven rebounds to go along with four steals and three assists.
Ife Kalejaiye gave the Saints a remarkable defensive game, recording three steals and 10 points.
Carroll closes out the season against No. 10 Montana Western on Saturday. The Bulldogs already own a share of the conference title, but if the Saints win they’d share with Western. The winner of the finale gets the No. 1 seed in the postseason.
In the third quarter Saints men’s basketball coach Carson Cunningham was presented with a game ball from Carroll athletic director Charlie Gross to commemorate Cunningham’s 100th win as coach. He picked it up it up on Feb. 7 with a 65-60 win against Montana Tech and became the fastest coach to reach 100 wins in program history.