A homecoming awaited Saints men’s basketball coach Carson Cunningham on Wednesday.
His Carroll College squad, for the second time in his tenure, traveled to West Lafayette to battle the Purdue Boilermakers, who Cunningham starred for not too long ago.
The Boilermakers upheld their end of the bargain and defeated the Saints 98-71 in front of an announced crowd of 12,634, but Carroll used the litmus test against Big Ten competition to build for its conference schedule, and had several bright spots along the way.
“We did some nifty things, created some sweet action,” Cunningham said. “And we played really hard. Purdue did too. Alas, they wore us down a bit in the second half. I hope we helped them out. I know this is a huge help to us as we continue the process of becoming the best team we can be.”
Saints All-American Ryan Imhoff led all scorers with 21 points. Imhoff hit 8 of 15 shots and had a team-high five assists, facing a Boilermaker front court that featured a pair of 7-foot-2-and-up players.
Carroll trailed entering halftime 44-34. The Boilermakers outscored the Saints by 17 in the second half to put the game out of reach.
Joining Imhoff in double figures for the Saints were Match Burnham (11), Matt Wyman (11) and Ife Kalejaiye (10). Every member of the Saints -- except Dane Warp, who is dealing with an ankle injury -- saw game time against what figures to be by leaps and bounds the best team Carroll College will see this season.
“Several guys had nice stretches,” Cunningham said. “It was impressive to see Imhoff assert himself, and watch Lorel and Ife handle the ball pressure so well.”
Purdue had a strong game from forward Vincent Edwards, who finished with a team-high 20 points.
A season ago, both teams advanced to their respective national tournaments. Coincidentally, as the Saints made a run to the quarterfinals of the NAIA tournament – hosted each season in Kansas City, Missouri -- the Boilermakers advanced to the Kansas City site of the NCAA tournament. A mile or two separated the teams then. Wednesday, while several divisions of basketball separate the two programs, they shared a court.
“It was a great opportunity for our squad to play in such an awesome environment against a fantastic squad,” Cunningham said. “I’m grateful to coach (Matt) Painter and Purdue for hosting us.”
While he’s stepped the court in West Lafayette before, Cunningham treasures each visit he makes back to his alma mater. Cunningham started for the Boilermakers for three years from 1998-2001 and helped them advance to two Sweet Sixteens and an Elite Eight. The place means a great deal to Cunningham and his family. His Carroll College Saints interwove themselves into that fabric.
The Saints march through their preseason slate, heading to Illinois for a game against Saint Francis on Saturday.