KANSAS CITY, MO. — The last time Carroll College advanced to the NAIA Fab Four, Saints head coach Kurt Paulson was the starting point guard.
14 years later, in Paulson’s first season in charge, the Saints are heading back to the semifinals after a 72-56 win over No. 4 seed Pikeville.
Match Burnham scored a game-high 20 points, despite being limited to 21 minutes with foul trouble. His three-point play near the end of the first half put the Saints ahead 37-27, and the momentum carried over into the second half with Carroll building a 20-point lead and outscoring Pikeville 35-29 in the final 20 minutes.
“We had a 10-point lead going into half, just a little too much for (Pikeville) to overcome,” Paulson said in a post-game Twitter interview with the NAIA. “I just think we’re moving the ball so well that we’re hard to guard at this point in time.”
Burnham’s fellow senior Matt Wyman added 15 points, Dane Warp scored 12, and Jovan Sljivancanin added 11 big points off the bench, including two big shots in a 7-0 run to close the first half.
As a team, the Saints shot 26 of 49 from the field and converted 14 of 18 free throws in a typically steady performance from the charity stripe.
The Bears were led in scoring by Jovontae Carleton, who was the only Pikeville player in double figures with 15 points. Carroll played stellar defense all game, holding the Bears to 41 percent shooting and keeping them well below their season scoring average.
Carroll also held Jayvian Delacruz, the Mid-South Conference Player of the Year, to seven points — well below his 19.9 points per game average.
“What can I say, our guys just executed the game plan to perfection. I thought our defense was tremendous,” Paulson said. “Held them to 56 points, and that team averages 85-plus. Their big guy just couldn’t get anything early, we fronted him. We had weak side help, we had ball pressure on the ball”
It’s Carroll’s first trip to the Fab Four since 2005, and the Saints will face a familiar opponent in the semifinals. No. 2 seed Lewis-Clark State knocked off No. 1 seed LSU-Alexandria, 80-74, to advance in the Liston bracket.
Carroll and LC-State have played four times this season already, with the series split evenly. The Saints won the first two games, before LC-State took the next two, including the most recent matchup, a 76-60 win in the Frontier Conference championship on Mar 5 in Helena.
The Saints will face the Warriors on Monday at 7 p.m. (MST), with the winner advancing to the NAIA national championship game against either No. 1 seed Georgetown (Ky.) or No. 4 seed William Carey (Miss.) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. (MST).
The NAIA national championship game will be broadcast live on ESPN 3.