HELENA — Carroll’s basketball programs completed the two-day sweep over Montana Western on Sunday. Rachelle Sayers’s team pulled out a 50-47 win over the Bulldogs, while the men downed Western 78-61 in the PE Center.
Much like day one of the back-to-back the Carroll women’s basketball team went right down to the wire with Western. Senior Danielle Wagner’s two free throws extended Carroll’s lead to two possessions late and helped the Saints win for the 13th time this season.
“It was a little ragged to start,” Sayers said. “You’re going to see this a lot on that second day, a lot of tired legs. Both teams had kids that played a lot of minutes, played extremely hard and put up a great game last night. I think you saw that tonight where there’s a lot of turnovers. I think this is just going to be the way the second day goes. It’s just going to be grind it out and [see] who can survive it.”
Carroll is now two games clear of Western for first place in the Frontier Conference and sits at 13-2 on the season and 7-1 in league play. Western falls to 7-3 on the season and 5-3 in conference play with the loss.
Despite holding a 14-point advantage at the half and a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter, the Saints struggled to find the bottom of the basket in the waning minutes. With just nine points scored in the final 10 minutes, Carroll saw its lead evaporate following an 8-1 Western run.
To get back even, the Bulldogs used their full-court pressure coupled with a half-court trap to force turnovers and throw the Saints out of rhythm offensively.
“When Western really started trapping in the half-court, we didn’t have a great plan for that,” Sayers said. “We had not prepped for that. We were trying to get kids in the right spots and they weren’t comfortable and I could tell they weren’t comfortable. So we tried to just run some things that they are comfortable with, but it wasn’t necessarily always the right thing.”
After shooting 46.7% from 3-point range in the first half, Carroll finished the game under 28% from long range and just 32% from the field. Wagner entered the halftime break shooting 5-for-7 from behind the arch, but added just two free throws in the second half as Western’s defense tightened.
Even with the pressure that forced Carroll to turn the ball over 23 times on Sunday, the Saints dominated the boards, outrebounding the Bulldogs 10-3 on the offensive glass and 45-27 overall.
Wagner was the lone Saint to score in double figures on Sunday afternoon, adding a game-high 17 points on 5-for-14 shooting. All five of those field goals came from 3-point range as she accounted for all but three of Carroll’s triples.
“When Dani gets a good look at the three, she’s going to knock most of those down,” Sayers said. “I thought the girls did a good job finding her. In the second half, obviously, Western came out and really pressured us. I thought they really stalled us. They did a great job taking us out of our stuff. We weren’t very sharp during most of the fourth quarter...Luckily we continued to do a good job on the offensive glass.”
Sophomore Jamie Pickens chipped in eight points and five rebounds, while redshirt sophomore Maddie Geritz added seven points and two rebounds.
One night after scoring a career-high 37 points on 15-for-20 shooting, Western’s junior forward Brynley Fitzgerald was largely contained by Carroll’s defense. While she worked herself open a handful of times, Fitzgerald shot just 2-for-9 from the field, including a 1-for-5 effort from 3-point range for five points.
Sydney Sheridan led the Bulldogs with 10 points on 3-for-8 shooting, while Lilly Gopher added nine points and four assists.
Even while outscoring Carroll 16-9 in the fourth quarter, Western never really got going shooting the basketball. The Bulldogs converted just five field goal attempts in the first half and shot 18.5%. Their 40% effort in the game’s final 20 minutes could only raise that percentage to 27.7% as seven of Western’s 13 field goals were 3-pointers.
While Western’s half-court pressure gave Carroll fits down the stretch, the Saints’ halftime advantage proved too much to overcome for a Bulldogs team that just could not get going offensively.
Offense was not in short supply for junior forward Jovan Sljivancanin and the Carroll men as they neared 80 points scored for the second game in a row.
“Just happy that our guys really shared the basketball, 23 assists, and I thought our rebounding was phenomenal,” head coach Kurt Paulson said. “Just getting on the glass and being active. Our kids played well. It was fun to watch them this weekend kind of put it together.”
The win bumps Carroll up to 7-5 on the season and 4-4 in conference play, while the Bulldogs drop to 3-5 overall and 2-5 in the Frontier.
For the second time in as many games, Sljivancanin led Carroll with a double-double, this time constructed of a game-high 34 points and 13 rebounds. Most of his shots high-percentage ones from 10- to 15-feet area, Sljivancanin accounted for half of Carroll’s 32 made field goals.
While Sljivancanin found much of the same success as he did on Saturday night, the Bulldogs once again found themselves down double digits at halftime. Staked to a 15-point lead, Paulson’s team watched as Western cut it all the way down to six points with 14 minutes to play.
“I think both games they cut it to six and made runs at us,” Paulson said. “Gui Pedra hit some big shots for us. Then we put Jovan at the high post and that really changed our offensive outlook, too. Those adjustments, Gui getting some looks on the three and then Jovan at the high post, was good for us.”
Guilherme Pedra knocked down a 3-pointer in response to Western’s 10-1 run as the Saints settled into the Bulldogs’ full-court press.
More ball movement and complete domination on the boards allowed Carroll to push its advantage back to double figures a little more than seven minutes later. It also did not hurt that Sljivancanin added 14 points and seven rebounds to his ledger in the second half alone.
Thanks to Sljivancanin’s prowess on the boards and sophomore Ifeanyi Okeke’s presence on the inside, the Saints kept Western off the offensive glass, allowing not a single second chance opportunity. Carroll, however, pulled down 16 offensive boards, converted them into 18 second chance points and outrebounded the Bulldogs by 22.
“We’ve been talking with a few of our key players about putting bodies on guys, defensive rebounding,” Paulson said. “They did it tonight, it was awesome.”
The Saints shot 51.6% for the game and dropped in seven 3-pointers, three courtesy of Pedra. He finished with 11 points, while sophomore Brendan Temple chipped in 12 points as the third and final Saint in double digits on Sunday.
Western’s leading scorer prior to the game, senior Jalen Hodges, went just 1-for-5 from the field with four points. Redshirt junior Tanner Haverfield picked up the slack with a 4-for-4 effort from 3-point range and a team-high 14 points.
Senior Max Clark and juniors Jamal Stephenson and Jok Jok added 11, 10 and 10 points, respectively. Clark also picked up five of Western’s 13 assists on the afternoon to go with his three rebounds.
A night after not really having an answer for Western’s run in the second half and letting the Bulldogs hang around, Carroll responded to their opposition and outscored them 33-31 in the second half despite being in an early 17-7 hole.
Both Saints basketball teams will be back in action on Saturday when Montana Tech visits the PE Center for a back-to-back set. The women’s game is scheduled to tip off at 5 p.m. with the men’s right after at 7 p.m.