Jovan Sljivancanin

Carroll's Jovan Sljivancanin drives the basketball against an Our Lady of the Lake University defender earlier this season.

CHANDLER, Ariz. — It was a battle, but Carroll’s men’s basketball team got back in the win column Sunday afternoon, beating Antelope Valley 62-61 at the Cactus Classic.

The Pioneers got two attempts at a game-winning basket as time expired, but a runner clanked off the rim and a put-back missed wide right as the final horn sounded.

Carroll trailed 61-60 with under 30 seconds left in the game. Shamrock Campbell put up a floater, missed, but fellow senior Jovan Sljivancanin was there to grab the offensive rebound, get fouled, and make two go-ahead free throws to give Carroll the lead and eventual win.

“Jovan knocked down the game-winners. Just calm and collected,” Saints head coach Kurt Paulson said. “Showed some real maturity there putting those in. The guys just held them off on the other end. I think they had two shots at it and luckily they missed. We were kinda on the short end of the stick on Friday with that same type of scenario, so it was our turn to pull one out down here.”

The Saints improved to 13-1 on the season with the victory and got their first win of the Cactus Classic after falling to Arizona Christian on a last-second lay-up on Friday.

Sljivancanin’s game-saving offensive rebound gave him his 12th double-double in the first 14 games of the 2021-22 season. Sljivancanin finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in the win.

Ifeanyi Okeke was big for the Saints all game. He altered shots on the defensive end, made several hustle plays chasing down rebounds and saving balls from going out of bounds on offense. Okeke was Carroll’s leading scorer on Sunday, pouring in 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting to accompany his eight rebounds and two assists.

“He’s playing hurt right now, so he’s gutting it out for us,” Paulson said of Okeke. “We’re just trying to get everything we can out of him before he gets a break during Christmas. He’s got some ribs that are out, so he’s fighting through a lot. He gave us a great game.”

Campbell knocked down two huge 3-pointers down the stretch for the Saints. Trailing 55-53, freshman Garrett Long pulled down an offensive rebound and kicked to Campbell who buried the go-ahead triple. Thirty seconds later and with 2:44 left to play, Campbell stretched the Saints’ advantage to four points with another 3-pointer as he scored seven-straight points for Carroll to help keep pace with Antelope Valley.

“Shamrock was big,” Paulson said. “We got down there late and Shamrock hit one to get us back up. That was kinda the one that kept us alive I felt like.”

After shooting 56% in the first half and taking a five-point advantage into the halftime locker room, the Saints failed to hit 35% of their shots in the final 20 minutes. Carroll did convert 12 second-half free throws on 18 attempts after not shooting from the charity stripe in the first half.

Antelope Valley was not much better in the second half, managing just 42.3% from the field. Elias Ezenekwe and Derrick Green both scored eight points in the final 20 minutes for the Pioneers. Ezenekwe finished with a game-high 20 points, while Arik Nicholas added a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Three different Antelope Valley players pulled down three or more offensive rebounds on Sunday. Nicholas totaled five by himself and the Pioneers racked up 18 as a team on their way to out-rebounding the Saints 31-28. Carroll matched Antelope Valley with 13 offensive boards, but the Pioneers still held a four-point edge (19-15) in second-chance points.

“They’re the most athletic team on the west coast in the NAIA,” Paulson said of Antelope Valley. “It was just a tough match-up for us. We definitely gave up some athleticism and they were just climbing on the boards. It was virtually impossible to keep them off. They’re so long and quick and athletic. We got a few of our own boards. Garrett Long pulled down a big one late offensively for us. It was just a tough match-up for us.”

Carroll missed six free throws in the win, while Antelope Valley missed five. The Saints buried six 3-pointers and held their opponent to just 37.9% (22-for-58) from the field for the game.

Brendan Temple added eight points for Carroll and Andrew Cook chipped in seven points and two steals off the bench.

Following back-to-back games that were decided by two points or less, Carroll is scheduled to wrap-up its Arizona road trip on Monday against Embry-Riddle. Tip off from Chandler is slated for 2 p.m.

“We’ve gotta play some more guys,” Paulson said. “We’ve gotta use some of our depth and get some more guys in there to give us some great minutes. We’ll be looking to the bench a little bit more [Monday] to get a second win down here.”

The game can be streamed here.

Email Daniel Shepard at daniel.shepard@406mtsports.com or find him on Twitter @IR_DanielS.

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