Carroll men's basketball

Carroll College men's basketball coach directs his team during a practice on October 14, 2019. The Saints start their season Friday against Southern Oregon in Butte. 

HELENA — Carroll College men’s basketball coach Kurt Paulson wanted to see where his team was at before the start of the season.

So he took them somewhere he knew they would be tested.

Before Paulson signed on to take over the Saints last season, he spent seven years learning under Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle.

And he found the answers he was searching for during an exhibition game with the Beavers.

“I think one of our strengths will be the ability to share the ball, but we need to become a lot more fundamental,” Paulson said. “Our fundamentals, like our footwork and decision-making, really need to improve.”

Paulson watched as his team was ousted 79-60 but he also saw some bright spots.

Sophomore point guard Shamrock Campbell showed he could become a scorer leading Carroll with 14 points while Jovan Sljivancanin scored nine points and grabbed 14 rebounds.

As a group, the Saints made 12-of-28 3-point shots and made a game of it early, as they were down by just one point at halftime.

“I thought we executed our offense pretty good and were very organized,” Paulson said. “I’d just like to see our guys get a little more aggressive in the paint and attacking the hoop.”

Carroll might be last season’s NAIA National Runner Up, but its personnel has changed.

No longer do all-conference forwards Match Burnham and Matt Wyman walk through the halls of the PE Center.

They have graduated and have been replaced by eight true freshmen.

“It’s early in the season and we have a lot of new faces,” Paulson said. “They don’t quite know what it takes to be fundamental in college yet, but they are learning and getting better. It’s my job to get them playing up to speed.”

The Saints started lone senior Dane Warp and sophomores Campbell, Sljivancanin and Eetu Villa.

The rest were all playing in their first college game.

Take forward Ifeanyi Okeke for example.

Okeke arrived to Helena from Damien High School in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

“I was able to get my jitters out,” he said. “I was definitely nervous at first but, once I got comfortable, it just became another game for me.”

Okeke played 17 minutes, logging four points and four rebounds during the game against Oregon State, and said it was definitely a first.

But Warp knows these players’ potential. They are the future of this program.

Warp watched freshman Dennis Flowers III sink three 3s and Brandon Temple score eight points and pull down four rebounds.

“We have some guys that can battle,” Warp said. “That was a tough team that put a lot of pressure on you just with their size and athleticism. (These freshmen) out-worked and out-hustled them.”

Ready or not, Carroll basketball starts its season on Friday when it travels down to Butte to play the NAIA Division II’s 18th-ranked Southern Oregon.

The Raiders finished with 21 wins last season and were picked to finish third in the Cascade Collegiate Conference.

But Paulson is confident in his team, and said he recruited these freshmen for a reason.

“Our new guys need to step in right away and fill the void that was left,” Paulson said. “We can’t have a learning month. That was October. Come Friday, we have to be ready to go and it’s my job to prepare them so they are confident.”

The Saints tip off from Montana Tech’s HPER Complex at 3 p.m. They return Saturday for a game against Eastern Oregon at 5 p.m.

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Ryan Kuhn covers Carroll College athletics for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Email him at ryan.kuhn@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @rskuhn

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