HELENA — After a 5-5 start to the season, the Carroll College men's basketball team rattled off 11 wins in 12 games to earn the program's fourth first-round bye in as many years in the Frontier Conference tournament.
”I'm ready for playoffs, obviously. But, you know, it has been a long and tiring year, so I kind of want to get in the playoffs and see what we can do in the tournament,” said Dennis Flowers III.
That 5-5 start, while indicative of the squad at that moment in time, isn't indicative of what the Saints (16-6) are capable of now, said Shamrock Campbell, one of the Fighting Saints' few upperclassmen. The start was merely a product of growing pains.
”I think having that time off from last season, kind of being uncertain with things kind of affected us," said Campbell. "Once we all got together as a group, I think we all started to build chemistry together again.”
As the Fighting Saints eye the Frontier Conference tournament, it can be easy to look past it to the NAIA national tournament as the Saints look to make their sixth straight appearance. However, turning back the clock to a little less than a year ago, the Saints were preparing to face Texas Wesleyan in the first round of the national tournament only to have it come crumbling down just a few hours later. That feeling has been the fuel for the fire brewing inside the Carroll College men's program.
“That was tough, but given the opportunity this year to play with all the uncertainty at the beginning, to have a pretty full season, has just been awesome. I'm super grateful," said Campbell. "I know the whole team is, and it'd mean a lot just to get back and to compete at that level.”
“Last year, I feel like we had a great opportunity. But there's some things that, you know, circumstances that we can't control, but I feel like we've been harboring that," said Flowers. "With that chip on our shoulder the whole year that we should have been there. I feel like people were doubting us, so I think that also is carrying over to this year. I think that chip on our shoulder is really what drove us.”
Though that chip may very well carry the Saints to a national tournament berth this year, they still need to contend at the Frontier Conference tournament when they face the highest remaining seed on Saturday.