HELENA — They may not who they play when they get there, but one thing is for sure, the Carroll College men’s basketball team is headed back to Kansas City, Missouri to the NAIA Men's Basketball National Tournament.
The Fighting Saints qualified for the tournament’s "Sweet 16" after beating Texas Wesleyan and Arizona Christian in Lewiston, Idaho in the opening round.
As he prepares for the Fighting Saints' first game in Kansas City since their runner-up finish in 2019, Carroll College head coach Kurt Paulson noted this year really put last season’s tournament cancellation in perspective.
“It's been quite the year, but you know, those type of seasons and all the struggles we went through, that makes you tougher and makes you appreciate what you do. Having the gym time you have and all the stuff we took for granted before, you really appreciate it more,” said Paulson
This year also didn’t come without’s its challenges, the Fighting Saints battled quarantines, got off to a 5-5 start with a young roster that has no senior leadership, but rallied back to go 14-2 so far ahead of Thursday’s game. The key difference for Paulson was on the defensive side of the ball.
“That end of the floor has really been a contributing factor to us playing well the last two months of the season, just really buying in on the defensive end," said Paulson. "That kind of led to our offense, you know, getting better as well, but the defensive end was was where it started”
As for the his plan for the sweet 16? Paulson says they‘re just keeping it simple.
“Do what worked and try to just, you know, take it a game at a time. Besides the venue change and all the excitement, let's treat it like all the other games that we've had all season long -- the other 26 games, treat them all the same and good stuff will happen if you do that.”
The Fighting Saints men’s basketball starts on the road to a national title, on Thursday in Kansas City, Missouri.