HELENA — The Carroll College men’s basketball team was in the perfect position on Wednesday evening.
It didn’t know who it would be playing in the Frontier Conference semifinals. The Saints received a bye in the first round after clinching the No. 1 seed. Players just kicked up their feet and watched it all come together.
Of course the coaches brought out their notebooks and started scouting.
“(The coaches) all took a game,” Saints coach Kurt Paulson said.
The game of the night came down to sixth-seeded Montana Tech defeating third-seeded Rocky Mountain in Billings.
It was the Orediggers’ first conference road win this season and Helena native Taylor England had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
“It doesn’t surprise me that they are still in it because they are playing well,” Paulson said. “We have to be ready for their pressure (defense). They are keeping teams in the 50s and the 60s this season.”
Carroll has handled Montana Tech at the PE Center this season winning both games by an average of 13 points, but Paulson knows his team can’t take anyone for granted.
Montana Tech has an upset win over the Saints just last Thursday in Butte.
“We are all familiar with one another and now it just comes down to executing,” Paulson said.
While Paulson is coaching in his first Frontier Conference Tournament, some of his players are seasoned veterans to the postseason.
Senior forward Match Burnham started on last season’s squad, which also received a quarterfinal round bye and home court advantage through the bracket.
“Having home court helps so much,” said Burnham, who leads the conference in scoring with 20 points per game. “It gives us a little extra comfortability playing a home.”
Rest has also been important since Burnham has been leading a Saints skeleton rotation that has featured just just seven players over the course of seven games after Matt Wyman went down with a knee injury back on Feb. 1.
“We barely have enough guys to practice right now so we need guys to rest up and get healthy,” Burnham said.
And it has also impacted a collective performance on the court.
The senior forward not only averages 17.5 points per game, but leads the team in rebounding. Since his absence a once 21-2 team has limped their way through the final stretch of the conference schedule, going 4-4 over their last eight games.
“It doesn’t ever come easier playing without Matt,” Burnham said. “He’s such a dynamic player and a game changer. It’ll be nice when he comes back.”
Wyman was diagnosed with a hyper-extended knee and Paulson said that the team will get him back before the end of the season.
“He’s progressing well, but it’s still day to day with him,” Paulson said. “He’s going to start getting on the floor more this week and actually try to compete in some drills. Saturday will be a game-time decision to see if he will be able to go.”