HELENA — Carroll College men’s basketball coach Kurt Paulson has had the same message for Shamrock Campbell all season.
So, on Friday night, when the team needed it most, Campbell took that message to heart.
He scored a game-high 17 points as the Saints took down the University of Providence 69-65 in the semifinals Frontier Conference Tournament at the PE Center.
“It just came out,” Campbell said. “I let it fly. Teammates were finding me and got some offensive board kick outs and knocked them down.”
The win sets up a rematch between Carroll and Lewis-Clark State at the Frontier Conference Championship game in Idaho on Monday.
Saints coach Kurt Paulson credited his team’s win last week against Providence as a big momentum boost for tonight’s victory.
“It was so big to win that game last week to get home court,” Paulson said. “We knew we just had to play strong defense.”
Though they held Providence to 39 percent shooting, it wasn’t a particularly great shooting night for the Saints.
For the second consecutive tournament game they started sluggishly, making just three of their first 11 shots.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the court, Providence looked like it was shooting in its home gym.
Rasheed Stocks hit a 3-pointer, followed by a layup by Brandon Cotton and two easy shots inside by Jaxon Hashley.
Hashley is the same player who put up 20 points and 16 rebounds in the last meeting between the two teams.
But Paulson took a timeout and made sure not to panic.
“The guys pulled through,” Paulson said. “Providence had a great game plan and zoned us most of the game. We couldn’t make our midrange shots and some shots at the rim.”
Campbell hasn’t been a primary scoring option since arriving to Helena.
He’s had 20-point games this season, like a 23-point game against NCAA Division III Whitworth and a 19-point game against Montana Tech, but his production has never been consistent.
He will be the first to tell you that he is more of a pass-first point guard.
“Back in high school, I averaged a decent amount of points but I always looked for my teammates first,” Campbell said.
Despite that, his shooting ignited the offense.
Campbell hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key that led to an 8-0 run, putting the Saints right back in the game.
By the eight-minute mark, Dennis Flowers III hit a 3-pointer to come all the way back from a 10-point deficit to take the lead.
Carroll increased its lead to as many as nine points when Dane Warp scored inside.
The nearly sold out crowd was brought to their feet when Campbell hit a 3-pointer to go up 32-20 with 4:17 left in the first half.
Providence entered the game equipped with the Frontier Conference’s leading scorer, Zaccheus Darko-Kelly, who is averaging 22.9 points per game.
But he was held to just three points in the first half and was a measly 1-for-7 from the field.
So, the Argos had to find other options as Brandon Cotton stepped up.
The Lower Columbia College transfer brought Providence within five points with 90 seconds until halftime, but Warp stopped the momentum with a 3-pointer from the corner.
The Saints held a 35-27 lead at halftime.
During the second half, Darko-Kelly finally found his shooting stroke.
He started the half off with a layup and followed it with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit down to 37-34 with almost 18 minutes left in the game.
“He can score from all three levels,” Shamrock said of Darko Kelly. “He’s probably the toughest matchup in the league.”
It’s not everyday you play a team four times in a season. That is, unless you are in the Frontier.
Despite knowing what the other team was going to bring, Paulson kept his team moving forward.
Providence continued to attack with Darko-Kelly and center Hashley, but Carroll added a new weapon.
Freshman Gavin Ramirez finished with eight points and a pair of 3-pointers from the corner, the second of which came in the second half.
It was only his sixth made shot this season.
Afterward, he said he was a 3-point shooter in high school but has been working on it more as of late.
The Saints were ahead 50-42 with 11:46 remaining, but the Argos went on a 7-0 run.
After a 3-pointer by Jacob Wetzel, the Saints were only ahead 50-49 midway through the second half.
Carroll held its ground as time expired, but still gave Providence chances to tie the game.
The Saints missed four free throws in the final minute, but a steal by Warp and a 3-point miss by Darko-Kelly sealed the win.
Warp ended the game with 16 points and nine rebounds while Ifenayi Okeke added 11 points and six rebounds off the bench.
“We are a young team but we are starting to mature,” Campbell said. “We are finally playing the style that we know can win games.”
While Carroll will play for a Frontier Conference Tournament Championship, Darko-Kelly will take his 13 points and five rebounds and wait with the rest of the team to see if they will make the NAIA National Tournament when the brackets are released next week.
Paulson, meanwhile, was watching the final minutes of the Lewis-Clark State game to see who his team’s next opponent will be.
“It doesn’t stop,” Paulson said.