GREAT FALLS — Providence’s torrid run through the Frontier Conference concluded on Tuesday night in Great Falls with a 77-57 win over Carroll for the tournament championship.
With just two losses in its conference slate of games, Providence completed the regular season and tournament championship title sweep and improved to 11-1 inside the McLaughlin Center this season.
“We’re 17-2,” Providence head coach Steve Keller said. “We never got to start until December, no excuses. That may have helped us, we may have been fresher, but those guys still gotta come together. We talk about playing hard, playing smart and playing together and I thought we did that really well tonight.”
Coming into Tuesday night, the Argonauts featured five players averaging double figures per game, including senior Zaccheus Darko-Kelly. Four Providence players scored double digits on Tuesday while Darko-Kelly finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds to go with his three assists and two blocks.
“I’m at a loss for words a little bit,” Darko-Kelly said. “Just feels great. We went through some adversity this year. Just came together at the right time and stayed together, stayed strong, worked our butts off and it paid off.”
Junior Rashee Stocks scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half, making four 3-pointers in the waning 20 minutes.
It was in that second half that Providence’s league-leading offense came to life. Up by five points at intermission, but shooting just 40 percent, the Argonauts reeled off 45 points in the final half of play on a 58.1 percent effort from the field. That mark included a 7-for-14 performance from 3-point range and helped Providence shoot 12-for-25 from long-range for the game.
“We got stops and we got some transition stuff and got some wide-open threes,” Keller said of the second half. “We shared the ball tonight, which is the best we’ve done and we ran our offense and we guarded. If we do that, we’re a tough matchup.”
Junior Jaxen Hashley scored eight of his 10 points down the stretch and junior Cap Uzan finished the game with 11 points and seven assists. As a team, Providence assisted on 21 of its 30 made field goals in the win. The Argonauts also forced 13 Carroll turnovers, blocked six Saints shots and took three first half charges on their way to limiting the opposition to just 57 points.
Without the help from the 3-ball, Carroll could never get going offensively on Tuesday. A 29.4 percent shooting performance in the first half gave way to a 37.5 percent effort in the final 20 minutes. While nine different Saints scored in the loss, only two broke into double digits with junior Jovan Sljivancanin leading the way with 13 points.
“I thought we had some chances in the first half to keep it close, and then right after halftime, we just didn’t make the plays and they went on a run. It was kind of a lost cause after that,” Saints head coach Kurt Paulson said. “That one’s on me, we weren’t ready for that game and we’ll have to evaluate the film and see how we can get better.”
Sophomore Brendan Temple chipped in 11 points and sophomore Dennis Flowers III added seven first half points. Junior point guard Shamrock Campbell was held to just three points on 1-for-7 shooting as Carroll shot 33.3 percent from the field as a team.
“I have a good feeling that our resume got us into the regionals, so we’ll have to get much better to go down there and play somebody and get a win,” Paulson said.
Providence moves to 17-2 on the season with the win and perhaps more importantly, locks up an automatic bid in the upcoming NAIA National Tournament. Carroll falls to 17-7 overall as both teams await their seedings and host round assignments that will be announced on Thursday.
“We go to Omaha, Nebraska and we gotta win one game, not that that is going to be easy, but the other routes, you gotta win two. Just real proud of our guys,” Keller said.