HELENA — Opponents can only focus on so many Saints.
Ife Kalejaiye knows that better than most.
Teams key in on Frontier player of the year candidate Ryan Imhoff every game. They shade toward sharpshooter Match Burnham on a secondary basis.
How the rest of the Saints are defended usually leaves the Carroll College men's basketball team with a matchup advantage.
Kalejaiye knows that.
The junior guard from California has been the Saints’ defensive stopper, but on Thursday against a pesky Providence team, Kalejaiye became the Saints’ scorer.
“I know they’re going to have a lot of attention on Ryan and Match, so I knew if had my shots and I had open looks I would have to shoot it with confidence, so I did and luckily it went it,” Kalejaiye said after Carroll’s 72-63 win over the Argonauts. “You do the work before, you can be confident going in. Ryan and Match bring so much attention and Matt. I was open and I was able to knock down some shots.”
Kalejaiye drove to the basket. He went to the free-throw line. He knocked down 3-pointers. When it was all said and done he finished with 17 points, right behind Burnham’s 19, 15 of which came from deep.
And when opponents focus on Imhoff and Burnham finds his stroke, the rest of the Saints flourish.
Kalejaiye snapped his fingers twice, describing the rhythm of basketball that led to the Saints getting in a flow.
“Now we’re playing with pace and moving up and down,” he said. “We’re hard to guard.”
That pace is born out of unselfish basketball. The Saints recorded 21 assists on the night, led by Alex Santos’ seven. When Providence played rugged defense, switching between a bunch of looks, the Saints stayed patient and found high quality shots.
Carroll had trouble taking care of the ball, partly due to Providence’s defense and perhaps just some lethargic play. The Saints lost the ball 17 times on Thursday.
“Our ability to get assists tonight was huge,” Saints coach Carson Cunningham said. “Their willingness to share the ball was a big asset for us. We turned it over too much though. We’re going to have to work on that and just come tomorrow ready to prepare for the next big battle.”
When Carroll does take care of the ball, the Saints showed last week what can happen. Carroll got out in transition and played an energized style of basketball. Some of that started on the defensive end with a ratcheted up intensity.
Kalejaiye sees that intensity each time the Saints take the court.
“I think it’s flowing good,” Kalejaiye said of the Saints. “I think we’re playing with more intensity. Especially in the second half. The second half in the past used to be a little iffy. Now we’re coming out focused with intensity and playing the way we should.”
When the Saints play hard and knock down shots, they’re tough to beat.
Burnham buried 5 of 7 three pointers on Thursday night in the Saints win, but it was his second 3-pointer that put him at 1,000 points.
He entered the evening with 994 career points. Burnham nailed his second triple with 11:13 remaining in the first half, putting him squarely at 1,000. The junior from Spangle, Washington, added 13 more points before he was done, including crucial deep balls in the second half to stave off Providence.