HELENA — Though it obviously wasn’t the finish the Carroll College men's basketball team wanted at the NAIA national tournament, this year's tournament run marked the sixth straight NAIA tournament appearance -- a feat only six teams out of the tournament's 64 can say they've beaten.
“It was a great season in the end. ... We started slow and I thought it was going to be a long season, but we responded in a good way pretty quickly,” said Jovan Sljivancanin.
In that same streak of tournament appearances, the Fighting Saints never started a season worse than 7-3 through their first 10 games. This year they started at 5-5.
“I thought from where we started the season at 5-5, we came a long way. I thought we matured and made a good run at the end,” said Shamrock Campbell.
“We got punched in the mouth pretty quickly early in the year, so we realized that we have to respond fast," said Sljivancanin.
However, like many teams, the COVID-19 pandemic didn't do the Fighting Saints any favors.
“We were kind of in scramble mode that first part of the season coming out of quarantines. It was rushed, and so we didn't look very good in the early part of the year," said head coach Kurt Paulson. "We just kind of needed some time to see what our strengths and weaknesses were, and then our defense really carried us in that run of wins there in January and February.”
From the beginning of 2021 through the end of the regular season, Carroll went 13-3, finished second in the Frontier Conference tournament, and made it to the final eight at the NAIA national tournament.
As they turn the page and look to the future, the Fighting Saints feel it’s a bright one.
“It's exciting. I think we've got to work hard this summer. I think we can do some special things next season,” said Campbell.
“Now that everybody got a taste of Kansas City and that arena down there and teams and how it is, I think we have to have really high expectations for next year,” said Sljivancanin.