Playing their fourth game in seven days a week ago, the No. 8 Saints were lucky any nuts or bolts remained from their former efficient machine.
Injuries stacked, practice time vanished and the Carroll College men tangled with pair of insatiable opponents, grinding arguably the nation’s best offensive instrument -- one that still ranks No. 1 in field goal and free throw percentage and No. 3 in 3-point percentage -- into a shell of itself.
“It was some pretty difficult timing for this spate of injures that have occurred,” Saints coach Carson Cunningham said. “It seemed to happen at a pretty intense stretch of games. Now we have time to take a breath and assess our current roster and develop an approach that’s going to make sense for this group.”
The Saints twice fell, losing to No. 13 Western and falling on the road at resurgent Rocky. The losses -- both on the court and in the L-column -- threatened to derail a season that appeared to be on a path toward the top of the Frontier Conference, which would be a first for Cunningham and Co.
Rocky, at least for one night, rerouted the Saints, delivering a blow to Western with an upset and giving Carroll a one-game cushion over the second-place Bulldogs.
Missing components of third-leading scorer Match Burnham (out until March), fourth-leading scorer Oliver Carr (gone for the season) and Lorel Johnson (likely returns this week), Carroll had to reexamine, retool and rebuild -- except the Saints had limited time to do so.
This week, the Saints have what must feel like an eon. Carroll has a nearly a full week of practice before Great Falls (11-14, 3-11) and Montana State-Northern (19-7, 8-6) come to Helena. In that time, Carroll is reconfiguring.
“Early in the week we spent some more time on ourselves,” Cunningham said. “You’re always working on yourselves, it’s just a matter of are you focusing on stopping their stuff or how to make your stuff a little more dynamic or maybe fit better the current roster. Fortunately, we have some time right now to develop ourselves.”
Great Falls gives the Saints a very probable chance to rebound. This season, Carroll has walloped the Argos by an average of 38.5 points -- albeit under different circumstances.
Great Falls comes to Helena on Friday after losing 10 of its last 11 games. The Argos broke up a nine-game losing streak with a win against Montana Tech in Butte last week, 77-73.
The Argos are led by the 11.3 points of Matthew Brooks-McGregor and Sergio Berkley’s 10.1 points per game.
Saturday the Saints will get MSU-Northern. Carroll has defeated Northern twice: 63-51 in Helena and 64-48 in Havre.
Northern is a defensive team, currently ranked No. 1 in the nation while allowing 60 points per game. The Lights also perform well rebounding, pulling in 23 defensive boards a game (No. 2 nationally), which also is about 12 more than opponents (No. 3 mark in the country).
Offensively, the Skylights have relied on a steady team play. No Skylight averages more than 10 points per night, with David Straughter leading the way with 9.9 points and 4.6 rebounds. Ryan Reeves is closely behind at 9.3 points and 6.7 rebounds each outing.
Saturday will also serve as the Saints’ Senior Day, the last home game of the regular season, a night to honor guard Zach Taylor.
“We’re just hoping fans come out this weekend to cheer us on,” Cunningham said. “We’re certainly excited to hit the floor Friday and get back on the winning track. Saturday is Taylor’s senior night. That’s a big night. We’re hoping people of Helena will come out and show their appreciation and give us a little boost on Friday and Saturday.”
Carroll tips off against Great Falls on Friday at 7:30 p.m.