KANSAS CITY, Mo.— The Carroll College men’s basketball team has lived beyond the 3-point line this season.
Upon entering the NAIA national tournament, it led the nation, making 42 percent of its shots.
But the Saints couldn’t rely on one of their biggest strengths to get past the University of St. Thomas with a 71-65 win in the first round Thursday afternoon.
Carroll made just five of its 22 3-pointers.
“I thought our guys were resilient,” Carroll coach Kurt Paulson said. “For a long time, shots weren’t falling, but the guys kept making some stops and stayed with it.”
Carroll began the game like it was any other game this season. Ife Kalejaiye sunk a 3-pointer to start the game.
But then no one could follow up.
St. Thomas, a team that punched its ticket after winning the Red River Athletic Conference, stayed in the game as Carroll struggled from the field.
The Celts have won five straight to win their conference tournament, but finished fourth in the regular season.
Freshman Shamrock Campbell missed a 3, followed by Kalejaiye missing one and then freshman Jovan Sljivancanin coming up short in the corner.
The Saints remained in the game with some experienced court vision as Matt Wyman found fellow senior Match Burnham cutting to the basket.
Wyman finished with seven assists to complement his 18 points and seven rebounds.
With about six minutes remaining in the first half, Dane Warp took over the point guard duties after Campbell picked up his second foul, but it didn’t disturb the offense.
Warp was primarily a shooting guard since arriving at Carroll and even before that at Havre High, but he found Wyman on two separate possessions.
The only problem was that St. Thomas had an answer. After a 3-pointer by Sam Flores and four straight points by Paul Taulton, the Celts entered halftime with a 34-32 lead.
“We had to play a total and complete team game,” Burnham said. “They came out almost in a matchup zone and then switched defenses on us. We had to work to find the best shots.”
While Burnham finished the first 10 minutes with a quiet eight points, he slowly started to wake up in the second half.
After St. Thomas pushed its lead up to five points, Burnham responded with a layup down low, cutting the deficit to 39-36.
Minutes later he found Warp on a curl where he hit a 3-pointer and then showed off his wide receiver skills, catching a full court pass from Wyman.
The wide-open layup led to a 62-55 lead with 4:38 remaining, but the Celts put together one last run.
St. Thomas rallied to get within a point inside the two-minute mark, but Carroll held its group and sealed the game with a 3-pointer by Kalejaiye in the corner.
“We call him Three-Fe for a reason,” said Burnham, who finished with a game-high 19 points.
The Saints now face seventh-seeded Oklahoma City at 8 a.m. Friday in the second round after it upset No. 2 Alabama Stillman.
The Stars have reached the national tournament for five straight years. They have captured six national championships in 1991, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2007 and 2008. OCU owns a 49-17 all-time mark in the NAIA tournament.
The Stars collected their 10th Sooner Athletic Conference tournament championship 74-73 over 18th-ranked John Brown (Ark.) on March 2.
“Preparation starts now,” Burnham said. “We just have to learn as much as we can about them.”