HELENA — Everything was going right for the Carroll College men’s basketball team.
It suffered just two losses and was the second-ranked team in the country.
That was until Matt Wyman went down with a knee injury.
Since that Feb. 2 night in Great Falls against the University of Providence, the Saints have just one win in their last four games.
Well, now you can make it two wins.
Carroll still holds onto to the top spot in the Frontier Conference and came away with a convincing 75-45 conference victory over Montana State-Northern on Thursday night at the PE Center.
But that didn’t come without some changes.
First-year Saints coach Kurt Paulson decided to shuffle his lineup and replaced junior Thomas Austefjord with freshman Jovan Slijvancanin.
Slijvancanin is not only averaging 4.1 points more than Austefjord this season, but Paulson liked the spark Austefjord gives off the bench.
“We thought offensively it would be good for us to space the floor a little bit,” Paulson said. “Jovan does that and Thomas was such a huge asset off the bench. He dove for loose balls and played great defense in there. His energy was awesome.”
No one is blaming Wyman, who sat on the bench and watched the Saints (22-5, 11-4) get revenge on the Lights (16-11, 8-7) from a defeat two weeks earlier, but his absence has been well noticed.
Since Wyman’s injury, the Saints have been averaging 16.5 points less per game, and others around him have seen less production.
Senior forward Match Burnham has played alongside Wyman the last three seasons.
He said he hasn’t played without him for this long of a stretch and it has been different.
But that didn’t stop him from scoring a team-leading 31 points.
“Matt is a stud. He’s the heart and soul,” Burnham said. “There has been some challenging practices and we just need to get back on track. There are always new adversities to face and it’s tough, but you just have to battle though it.”
Slijvancanin, who learned he was taking Wyman’s place on Wednesday at practice, has not only shown he can score this season, but that he can rebound as well.
He said it is something he takes great pride in.
“Nobody really expected me to rebound that well but it has been going well for me,” Slijvancanin said. “I just box out my guy and I have an advantage because I’m long.”
With the Saints holding a commanding lead with minutes remaining in the second half, Paulson put in the two remaining players on his bench. Sophomore Chase Burnham and freshman Eetu Villa both ended up in the scoring column and with so many injuries that have turned into hurdles this season, Paulson knows he has to count on everyone.
“When your number is called you need to step up,” Paulson said. “Tonight was huge.”
Wyman is still rehabbing his knee and coaches still list him as week-to-week, but he is doing some rehab during practice and will be re-evaluated early next week.
He will not, however, be available for Saturday’s game against No. 22 Providence.
The Saints are looking for some redemption after their last meeting up in Great Falls where they lost 78-77.
“(This week) has been harder than you would know, but credit our guys for buying in on what we are trying to tell them and staying on board,” Paulson said.