(Editor's note: Carroll College media release)
HELENA -- After a sleepy first half, the No. 17-ranked Carroll College Fighting Saints found their rhythm and took care of Rocky Mountain College in the first round of the Frontier Conference Tournament, winning 89-73 on Tuesday in the P.E. Center.
At junctures in the first half, the Saints found themselves down by as many as nine points. Anytime it looked as though the Saints would go on a run, Carroll would falter and Rocky would answer. Even Ifeanyi Okeke's thunderous alley-oop from Dennis Flowers III only briefly ignited the crowd because immediately after an ensuing steal, Carroll turned the ball over and committed a foul.
It was a common theme in the first half.
Coach Kurt Paulson went to the bench and called on Jaedon Lieberg late in the half to find a spark, and the redshirt freshman delivered a nice play. Lieberg drove into the heart of Rocky's defense, sinking the defense in before kicking out to a wide open Gaven Ramirez for a corner 3-pointer.
"I threw him in there because we were sputtering in the first half," Paulson said. " He has the team-first attitude: 'How can I help the team?' Yeah he's only a freshman. He was ready when his number was called. He totally changed that game for us."
After a sluggish half, the Saints (23-8) asserted themselves in the second and shared the rock. The Saints finished with 23 assists, while also shooting high percentages. Carroll shot 53 percent from the field and 54 percent from the 3-point line.
Carroll used a 25-10 run to build a 15-point lead with 12 minutes remaining and then held RMC off the rest of the way.
"The first half we were switching their ball screens," Paulson said. "He was setting high ball screens, and we were switching it because that's what we've been doing lately. They were exploiting it. We just hedged in the second half and it helped some. It wasn't a perfect plan, but it helped some and kind of got the ball out of (Grant) Wallace's hands a little bit."
Rocky (7-22) received 18 points from Grant Wallace, but the Battlin' Bears didn't quite have enough firepower to upset the Saints for the first time this season.
Carroll received 20 points and 13 rebounds from Jovan Sljivancanin and 18 points from Dennis Flowers III, while Dane Warp added 14 points and nine assists. Shamrock Campbell added in another 15 points and eight assists.
The Saints will face Providence on Friday at 7 p.m. in the P.E. Center. The Argonauts defeated Montana Western on Tuesday night to advance to the semifinals.
"We're going to see them with a chip on their shoulder since we got them last game," Flowers said. "We know who their guys are, and they know who our guys are, so it's going to be a tough one."
Tickets for Friday's contest will go on sale Wednesday at 9 a.m. Reserved season ticket holders will have until Thursday at noon to purchase their seats. After that, all tickets will be released for purchase to the general public.