HELENA — Carroll College men’s basketball coach Kurt Paulson didn’t know what to expect during his first season.
He knew he was gaining some high-caliber players.
The players he brought in didn’t hurt either.
But coaches at the beginning of the season seemed to overlook the Saints, picking them to finish third in the Frontier Conference preseason's coaches poll behind Lewis-Clark State and Rocky Mountain.
As Carroll prepares for its fourth consecutive Frontier Conference championship game at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night at home against Lewis-Clark State, Paulson knows his season has been full of adversity that goes beyond preseason polls.
All he can do is take the challenges as they come.
“The guys have done a good job handling all the stuff that has come at us,” Paulson said. “The most important thing is we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
Luckily for Paulson, he has a few days until he has to think about the NAIA National Tournament bracket. Until then, the focus is on the 12th ranked Warriors; the same team that defeated Carroll 22 days ago.
“They are playing great,” Paulson said. “(Warriors coach Austin Johnson) has found his rotation. Earlier in the season they were trying to find their identity and now he knows what it is.”
Lewis-Clark State comes in as the hottest team in the Frontier Conference, winning its last 10 games. They made quick work of Montana State-Northern in the conference tournament semifinals, winning 95-53 and, like Carroll, the Warriors have eyes on a tournament title.
What do you expect?
They've been close before. Their path was cut short last season losing to Montana Western in last year’s semifinals.
While Carroll won two out of the three games during the regular season, Lewis-Clark State came away with a 70-55 win during their last meeting.
Those 55 points were the lowest scoring output in a game this season.
“We need to score and find some ways to get past their defense,” Paulson said. “They are stingy and they are athletic."
Dana Abe, a senior transfer from Shoreline Community College in Washington, is listed as a 6-4 guard but is a force inside.
He scored 10 points during Saturday’s win and has established an inside presence attacking the rim.
“If we come out shooting and limit our turnovers then we will be fine,” said Kalejaiye, who is playing in his fourth consecutive Frontier Conference championship.
The Saints are looking to cut down the nets for a third consecutive season, but no matter what happens, a date in the National Tournament is waiting.
And the players don’t care where they land in the bracket.
“Each year we come in and have done well,” Kalejaiye said. “They can do whatever they want because we will be fine.”