HELENA — The Carroll College men’s basketball team likes playing on its home court.
In fact, it loves it.
Maybe it’s the roar of the student section or the familiarity of a certain game day routine.
Whatever the reason, the comfort of home has made the Saints extremely successful at the PE Center.
Over the past two regular seasons Carroll has just two losses on its home court, which made Saturday’s game against Rocky Mountain College so much more important.
Carroll held onto its own destiny coming into the rubber match with the Battlin’ Bears and Saints coach Kurt Paulson finally exhaled after coming away with an 84-72 Frontier Conference victory.
The win gave Carroll home court advantage throughout the conference tournament. A loss would have handed Lewis-Clark State the regular season title and a trip to Lewiston, Idaho if they were paired against the Warriors in the finals.
“It was really big not only having home court but getting our guys some rest (because of the first round bye),” Paulson said. “Just having those few extra days will help. Our guys our playing through pain and logging a lot of minutes.”
Although the Saints feature experience such as seniors Match Burnham and Ife Kalejaiye, who were recognized on senior day, the regular season finale against the Battlin' Bears was not a walk in the park.
Rocky Mountain entered the PE Center battling for some home court opportunities in the tournament.
The Saints held the early lead and extended it to as many as 13 points nine minutes in, but the Bears came roaring back and came within a basket just minutes before halftime.
With senior Matt Wyman sitting on the bench in a tie, still unable to play because of his hyper extended knee, others were forced to step up.
Paulson said Wyman is still day to day but expects him back before the season’s end.
Until then, Burnham led with 15 first-half points, but also got some aid from junior guard Dane Warp and freshman point guard Shamrock Campbell.
Warp was held to just a 3-pointer in the first half, but created a spark in the second.
The Havre native hit a runner in the lane and a once three-point deficit was transformed into a 13-point lead with minutes remaining in regulation.
“He just kept taking Rocky off the dribble and making plays whether he was scoring it or dishing it,” Paulson said. “He was fantastic.”
Rocky Mountain watched as the Saints celebrated a third straight regular season Frontier Conference championship.
But cutting down the nets didn’t mean much to Burnham. He has done it years prior and has his eye on some other nets to cut down in the weeks to come.
“We fought through a lot of adversity this season and had a lot of things come our way,” said Burnham, who finished with a game-high 33 points. “I think we really earned this one.”
Carroll holds the top seed in the Frontier Conference Tournament for a second straight season while Rocky Mountain will play in the quarterfinals as the No. 3 seed against Montana Tech.
Bears coach Bill Dreikosen was not available for comment after the game.