HELENA — Carroll’s men’s basketball team will enter the upcoming Frontier Conference Tournament as the No. 2 seed after beating Montana Western 67-52 on Saturday night in Dillon.
The 15-point win was the Saints’ 10th in their last 11 games and advances them to 15-6 on the season and 12-5 in league play. Western falls to 7-11 overall and 6-11 in conference games with the loss.
Junior Jovan Sljivancanin notched his seventh double-double of the season, scoring a game-high 22 points to go along with 14 rebounds and five assists. Freshman Murat Guzelocak finished with a career-high 13 points, while junior Shamrock Campbell chipped in 12 points.
“He was doing a nice job of facilitating,” Saints head coach Kurt Paulson said of Sljivancanin. “A lot of his assists came [by] going to Murat. He’s a willing passer and sometimes when he gets doubled up, he needs to make the kick-out pass or the drop off, and he definitely did it tonight.”
Carroll, which opened a 13-point lead by halftime, held the Bulldogs to just 23 points in the first 20 minutes of play. Entering the game, the Saints owned the country’s 10th-best scoring defense, allowing just 65.9 points per game.
Western was held well below that mark and scored 24 points less than its season average of 76.2 points per game. The Bulldogs’ two leading scorers in seniors Jalen Hodges and Max Clark, a duo that usually scores 34.8 points per contest, combined for just 18 points on 7-for-21 shooting.
“I thought the kids played really good defense,” Paulson said. “Western has been really dangerous lately, so we had a good effort on the defensive end and held them to 52 [points], which was awesome.”
As a team, Western shot 38.3 percent on Saturday, including a 6-for-20 effort from 3-point range. The Bulldogs missed 11 free throws and were out-rebounded 37-31 by the Saints.
On the flip side, Carroll shot 48.1 percent in the first half to help build its lead, finishing 44.1 percent from the field. Campbell went a perfect 2-for-2 from 3-point range, but the Saints struggled from that distance, shooting just 31.3 percent for the game.
Carroll did connect on 10 of its 11 free throws while Western could not clear 48 percent from the charity stripe in a 10-for-21 performance.
With a 10-3 run following halftime, Carroll led by as much as 22 points with 16:52 remaining in the game. Western, however, strung together some good things offensively on the back of 40.6 percent in the second half, but could only play the Saints even down the stretch in a game Carroll led for more than 35 minutes.
“I thought [Western] had a good start, but then we kinda gathered ourselves and made a run there in the first half and got the lead,” Paulson said. “We had a good start in the second half that got the lead up to 20 and then just held them off all half in the second half. It was definitely a defensive battle for us and our guys -- I thought they played really well.”
The Saints are now 3-0 against Western this season and have just one game standing between them and the start of the league tournament next week. With the bye as the No. 2 seed, Carroll will advance straight to the semifinals and will host the highest remaining seed from the opening round games.
Carroll women win seventh-straight game
Rachelle Sayers’ team has known it will be the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament for nearly a week now. A Western loss to Montana State-Northern clinched that distinction for the Saints as they have rolled through their league slate.
Another win came Carroll’s way on Saturday in a 63-55 victory over the Bulldogs. With the win, Carroll has now won seven consecutive contests and 18 of its 20 total contests this season. The Saints sit at 12-1 in league play, while Western falls to 12-7 in the Frontier and slips down to third place behind Providence.
Sophomore Jamie Pickens recorded a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds on Saturday afternoon, narrowly missing what would have been her third double-double of the season. Still, Pickens shot 9-for-11 from the field as the Saints shot 47.3 percent as a team.
Leading by seven points with under two minutes remaining, senior Danielle Wagner knocked down one of her three 3-pointers, giving the Saints a 10-point advantage and helping them hang on after Western got to within three points with under five minutes to play.
Wagner added 14 points in Carroll’s win, as both her and senior Christine Denny pulled down eight rebounds. Denny and junior Kamden Hilborn each chipped in eight points and senior Jaidyn Lyman contributed six points in the win.
Carroll out-rebounded Western by 11 on Saturday and had 19 assists to go with 26 made field goals. Wagner and junior Sienna Swannack paced the team with four assists each, while Pickens, Hilborn and Lyman each dished out three apiece.
The Bulldogs got off to a bit of a slow start, shooting 38.5 percent from the field in the first half. They rebounded, however, and shot 48 percent in the waning 20 minutes, including 3-for-8 from 3-point range. As a team, Western shot 43.1 percent on Saturday as three Bulldogs cracked double digits.
Junior Brynley Fitzgerald paced Western with 15 points on 6-for-14 shooting, while redshirt senior Paige Holmes and sophomore Shainy Mack added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Fitzgerald, Mack and Holmes, Western’s three leading scorers heading into the weekend, combined to shoot 2-for-10 from 3-point range but a solid 15-for-32 (46.9 percent) from the field overall. The Bulldogs managed just a 26.3 percent effort from behind the arc and missed six free throws in the loss.
Both Carroll teams will be back in action on Sunday against Western. Tip off for the women’s game is scheduled for 2 p.m. with the men’s to follow at 4 p.m.