HELENA — No. 4 in the NAIA took on No. 2 in Canada on Thursday in the PE Center.
The Carroll College men's basketball team kept its unbeaten season alive, building a 16-point lead in the first half to discombobulate the Dinos of Calgary and then held off any comeback attempts during a 91-82 win.
The night belonged to the Saints from the tip, though the Dinos put up an even fight after Carroll’s early run. Even then, it was clear Ryan Imhoff was the best player on the floor, adding another stellar outing to his already strong resume this season. Imhoff finished with 30 points, six rebounds, four assists, and three blocks, but turned the ball over five times.
Each time he touched the ball, the entirety of the Dinos’ defense moved. It opened up other Saints to be productive.
Match Burnham got the Saints going early, firing and hitting nearly everything he shot in the first half. He finished with 27 points on 10 of 14 shooting.
“The Dinos are really good,” Saints coach Carson Cunningham said. “You look how strong of a lineup they have, it’s like reading a Michael Crichton novel. We try to fight really hard and execute. The guys shared the rock and made some nice plays and hit some nice shots.”
The Dinos may have read like a thriller, but they were missing a few pages of their book on Thursday, and maybe even more so on Friday.
Dinos coach Dan Vanhooren, who is in his 18th season in the program, is not coaching in Helena. Assistant Matt Skinn took over as coach for the contest. Vanhooren is attending the funeral. Lucas Mannes, the fourth leading scorer for the Dinos, missed the Montana road trip while he attended his sister’s wedding.
The top of a ref’s fingertips may have thinned the Dinos even further.
Leading scorer Mambi Diawara, who finished with 18 points of 7 of 12 shooting but also coughed the rock up eight times, received two consecutive technical fouls late in the game after using some choice words toward the officiating.
Whether Diawara plays on Friday could be determined by both head coaches. The Saints are counting their games against Calgary, while the Dinos are using them as exhibition. The stakes are higher for Carroll, but Calgary obviously wants to get its top scorer some run before returning to Canada.
Neither coach wanted to comment directly on Diawara’s status for Friday, though Skinn said he assumed the streaky scorer would be held out.
Diawara’s technical fouls paved the way for six consecutive free throw attempts for Imhoff, who calmly sank all six.
Some of the Dinos frustrations were understandable. Imhoff puts referees in a predicament each possession. Imhoff is strong enough to power through nearly any defender and he’ll create contact on every shot when he’s tightly guarded. If defenders don’t press him, he’s skilled enough to shoot over anybody, excelling in the mid-range. Each time he posts up, it’s up to a referee to determine if he’s fouled or not.
Thursday night, excluding the technical free throws, he went 7 of 8 from the free-throw line.
“Obviously Imhoff is one of the best players in the NAIA and Burnham got going early,” Skinn said. “Those are the two guys that we have to do a better job on.”
And those fouls changed Calgary’s game plan. Diawara, and big men Connor Foreman and Lars Schlueter, all starters for the Dinos, sat for a significant portion of the second half. Calgary inserted them back in for a final run with 10 minutes remaining.
Though Skinn felt playing with NCAA rules affected his team more than perhaps met the eye. The game also wasn’t the sharpest outing for either side, as the Dinos recorded 20 turnovers and the Saints piled up 18.
“The rules are different for us,” he said of Calgary usually playing under FIBA rules. ”The 30 versus 24 second shot clock is a big difference for us. I thought we played terrific defenses for long stretches of time and then they got a couple really late shots out of scramble situations and that’s kind of why they won the game I thought.”
The Dinos had a game to acclimate to the rules. They’ll have another crack at Carroll on Friday.
Carroll was certainly the better team on Thursday, though a full strength Calgary would have been interesting to see.