HELENA — Carroll College is returning to the Frontier Conference men’s basketball championship game.
The Fighting Saints rolled past Montana Tech on Saturday in Helena, 81-64, to clinch their fourth consecutive trip to the conference title game.
Carroll jumped up on Tech early, leading 26-13 with just over five minutes to play. But Carroll’s Match Burnham was then called for a Flagrant 1, which flipped the momentum in Tech’s favor. The Orediggers hit a barrage of 3-pointers and free throws to close the half and tie the game at 30 entering the break.
“They just were pressuring us out of our offense. At the end of that first half they made a run,” Carroll College head coach Kurt Paulson said. “They got to the free throw line and slowly got back into it.”
The second half, though, was all Carroll. The Saints were able to break down the Oredigger defense off the bounce to create open shots for each other. Carroll outscored Tech 51-34 in the second half, in large part due to 3-point shooting. The Saints hit 9 of 14 from downtown and shot 63 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes.
“We told our guys, ‘If they’re out pressuring you like that, you’ve got to drive them and you’ve got to jump stop in the paint, then guys have got to cut to the rim or space when we drive,’ and that’s where we got those open looks,” Paulson said.
“That’s something that (Paulson) preaches a lot,” Carroll guard Ife Kalejaiye said of the ball movement in the second half. “Looking to get other people shots, unselfishness, the unselfish play, the extra pass. That’s something that when we’re doing that, we thrive. We’re a special team when we’re doing that.”
Burnham led the Saints with a huge double-double, scoring 21 points and ripping down 14 rebounds. Matt Wyman made his return for Carroll after missing the past seven games. He finished with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting in 36 minutes.
“Obviously (Wyman) brings leadership, maturity and he’s been here before, so it’s just great to get him back,” Paulson said.
Burnham and Wyman were just two of Carroll’s five players in double figures, as Shamrock Campbell had 14 and Jovan Sljivancanin and Kalejaiye each had 12. Taylor England led Tech with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Carroll will now prepare to face Lewis-Clark State in the Frontier Conference championship game on Tuesday night in Helena, with the winner gaining the Frontier Conference’s automatic bid to the NAIA national tournament March 20-26 in Kansas City, Mo.