HELENA — The No. 4-ranked Carroll College men's basketball team survived a late heave from Calgary and remained unbeaten this season on Friday, winning 79-78 in the PE Center.
"Man I am so impressed with our Fighting Saints' ability to grapple, to stay connected and battle," Saints coach Carson Cunningham said.
Carroll defeated Calgary for the second time in as many nights, though the Dinos played without their best player, Mambi Diawara, who averages 25 points and was held out after picking up two technical fouls on Thursday.
"That's a really good team, Calgary," Cunningham said of Canada's second-ranked squad. "Word on the Canadian street from what I hear was an expectation, at minimum, of a split. And I see why that might be the thought. That team is really good."
With one minute left and nursing a one-point lead — employing a tall lineup — the Saints dumped the ball into Match Burnham in the post. The forward from Washington had already come up big in the second half, hitting a corner 3-pointer to give the Saints some momentum.
Burnham shot a turnaround jumper over his defender — a tough shot by most measures — and sank it to give the Saints a three-point lead.
Calgary responded with a quick bucket and the Saints had the ball and a 75-74 lead. Matt Wyman sunk two free throws to give the Saints a three-point lead.
Carroll loaded up a defense to switch screens and harass German sharpshooter Lars Schlueter. On Friday he was the SharpSchlueter, knocking down 8 of 10 3-pointers.
The Saints denied him the ball and Calgary took a quick layup to cut back into the lead and leave 10 seconds on the clock.
Wyman returned the free-throw line to hit two more clutch free throws, putting the Saints back up by three.
David Kapinga got a tough look at a 3-pointer, and his shot nearly fell, but snuck out over the rim. Calgary scored on a put-back but time expired and the inspired challenge by the Dinos fell a point short.
"Man, I am so impressed with our Fighting Saints ability to grapple, to stay connected and battle," coach Carson Cunningham said. "That's a really good team, Calgary. Word on the Canadian street from what I hear was an expectation, at minimum, of a split. And I can see why that might be the thought. That team is really good. But our Fighting Saints displayed that moxie which has carried them time and again. We want to keep developing that and our togetherness and see how far we can take this thing. All our games are battles. We know we have challenges ahead. Something I really dig about these fellas is that they embrace the challenges."
Carroll played its trademark brand of basketball against a Calgary team without its best player.
But on Friday, the Dinos got a major lift from Schlueter and played a cohesive game from tip to tip. The Canadian club never let the Saints rip off a big run like they did on Thursday.
The Saints adjusted by sending their best perimeter defender Ife Kalejaiye to guard Schlueter, who finished with a game-high 28 points, in the second half and the big man from Germany went stagnant in the second half.
Kalejaiye slowed Schlueter, but the rest of the Dinos went blow for blow with the Saints. The two teams mirrored each other, playing physical man-to-man defense and challenging ball handlers to score in difficult, acrobatic ways.
Some thought Calgary could be a better team without leading scorer Mambi Diawara on the court. And on Friday they nearly took a game from the Saints without their best player and fourth leading scorer both missing the game.
Carroll was led by Burnham, who finished with 21 points. Ryan Imhoff added 20 and Wyman finished with 14.
At the end of it all, the Saints collected two wins against Calgary and improved the best start in Saints’ history to 14-0.
"Our fighting Saints displayed moxie which has carried them time and again," Cunningham said. "We want to keep developing that and our togetherness and see how far we can take this thing."
Carroll begins conference play next week with home games against Montana Western and Lewis-Clark State.
"We know we have challenges ahead," Cunningham said. "Something I really dig about these fallas is that they embrace the challenges."