KANSAS CITY, MO. — Leading by three with under 30 seconds to play and the shot clock winding down, Carroll College’s Ife Kalejayie hit a 3 to effectively seal the Fighting Saints’ first-round victory over the University of St. Thomas in the first round of the NAIA men’s national tournament inside Municipal Auditorium. The Saints defeated the Celts 71-65 on Thursday.
”Just a gusty team effort. Super proud of our guys. It was a knockdown, drag out game that came down to the last minute. We kept telling our guys to just hang in there,” Carroll head coach Kurt Paulson in an NAIA Twitter interview.
The game was back and forth throughout the first half, with St. Thomas carrying a 34-32 lead into halftime. Carroll fell behind 41-36 early in the second half before mounting a run. The Saints outscored St. Thomas 20-9 in less than six minutes to take a 56-50 lead.
Carroll pushed its lead to 64-57, but St. Thomas wouldn’t go quietly. The Celts cut the Saints’ lead to one, 66-65, with 1:56 to play, but a free throw apiece for Matt Wyman and Shamrock Campbell set up Kalejayie’s clutch triple.
“At the end there we had a huge corner 3 by Ife Kalejayie, Matt Wyman with the assist, and he hit a big one and gave us a little separation,” Paulson said. “Our guys just composed themselves down the stretch and made free throws and we got the great team win.”
Kalejayie was one of four Saints in double figures, finishing with 11 points. Match Burnham led the way with 19, Wyman had 18 and Dane Warp added 15. Paul Taulton and Orowo Eleyae led St. Thomas with 14.
The Saints move into the second round and will face Oklahoma City University at 8 a.m. on Friday. Oklahoma City won its first-round game against Stillman College 101-84.