HELENA — A 20-point lead with less than 30 seconds remaining doesn’t usually inspire chanting from the crowd.
On Saturday, it did.
The Saints’ nonconference schedule was 30 seconds away from completion as freshman point guard Jaidyn Lyman dribbled out the clock, the Saints were content with an 82-61 win over the visitors from Canada, Lethbridge.
An 83rd point would have given ticketholders free chili.
Each tick on the clock, the rumblings grew louder.
The Saints wouldn’t heave a shot, opting instead for the classy move and allow time to expire.
As soon as the clock hit zero, it meant the Saints were back to preparing for the Frontier Conference. Carroll (10-4) is five days away from welcoming No. 12 Western and No. 6 Lewis-Clark State College to Helena. With an impressive nonconference slate, Carroll showed it’s ready for the Frontier.
“I think you look our schedule and our record and we’re 10-4,” Saints coach Rachelle Sayers said. “Some people will say you’re only 10-4. I would challenge anybody to say we didn’t play the toughest schedule in our entire conference. Our four losses are to all ranked opponents, whether it’s NAIA or NCAA D3. We played a tough schedule. Only two of the teams we played don’t have winning records. Nobody else can say that.”
That’s no exaggeration.
Sayers takes a great deal of pride in her team’s schedule, and rightfully so. The Saints played exhibition games against University of Montana, Utah and Boise State, knocking off the later 62-61. (Boise State won the Mountain West Conference last season.)
In games that counted, Carroll hosted Saint Thomas and Northwest – which were some of the softer opponents now in retrospect. Carroll then won a true road game over No. 11 Westmont and then fell two nights later to No. 15 The Master’s.
After two conference road games the Saints split, they went to Spokane and battled Whitman and Whitworth. Whitman was ranked No. 7 in NCAA DIII and the Saints lost 59-55. A day later, Carroll defeated Whitworth 78-56.
Ten days later, the Saints traveled to Hawaii to play Menlo (12-2) and won 75-65. A night later, Menlo defeated No. 3 Campbellsville. Carroll on the other hand lost to No. 1-ranked in NAIA DII Saint Xavier, 55-52.
Then, after Christmas, the Saints hosted two strong Canadian teams and started a winning streak before going back into Frontier play.
Looking at Carroll’s schedule and taking a glance at overall records and top-25 standings and quality of opponents, the Saints played eight quality opponents, excluding exhibition games.
Scrutinizing the rest of the Frontier in a similar manner – excluding exhibition games -- Providence and Tech had the next toughest schedules with five quality opponents. Western and Northern had three. Lewis-Clark State had two strong opponents and Rocky played the softest schedule with just one above-average opponent.
Here’s a breakdown of the quality of opponents.
Carroll: at No. 11 Westmont (7-4), at No. 15 The Master’s (9-2), at Whitman (10-1), at Whitworth (6-5), neutral vs. Menlo (12-2), neutral vs. Saint Xavier (11-2), Calgary (14-5), Lethbridge (10-3)
Western: at MSU-Billings (10-4), neutral site vs. Eastern Oregon (14-2), neutral site vs. No. 11 Westmont (7-4)
Lewis-Clark State: No. 15 The Master’s (9-2), Whitworth (6-5)
Providence: at Arizona Christian (11-2), neutral site vs. No. 2 Freed-Hardeman (11-2), neutral site vs. Cumberland (9-4), No. 17 Our Lady of the Lake (10-5), Lethbridge (10-3)
Tech: neutral site vs. Eastern Oregon (14-2), at No. 15 The Master’s (9-2), neutral site vs. Hope International (12-2), neutral site vs. Calgary (14-5), Lethbridge (10-3)
Northern: neutral site vs. No. 2 Campbellsville (13-2), neutral site vs. No. 19 Martin Methodist (11-4), No. 17 Our Lady of the Lake (10-5), Lethbridge (10-3)
Rocky: at Arizona Christian (11-2)
Carroll won the nonconference scheduling.
Next week, we’ll start to see who begins winning the Frontier.