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Hamline beats St. Thomas, Carleton to even MIAC record at 2-2

Sophomore guard Connor Knutson (12) and junior guard Zach Smith (10) look on as junior guard Bret Lukes (11) takes a shot in last seasons's 65-82 home defeat to St. Thomas.

Taylor Geer

Sophomore guard Connor Knutson (12) and junior guard Zach Smith (10) look on as junior guard Bret Lukes (11) takes a shot in last seasons's 65-82 home defeat to St. Thomas.

Josh Dungan, Sports Editor

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House of horrors would be an accurate phrase to describe the kind of environment Hamline has faced when traveling to St. Thomas in men’s basketball over the last three and a half decades.

Hamline had lost 38 consecutive games on St. Thomas’ home court and had lost 11 straight games to the Tommies dating back to a 92-79 home win on Jan. 17, 2011. Despite the Tommies’ dominance over the Pipers in the last half-decade, Hamline went into their game last Wednesday, Dec. 7, believing they had a great chance to win.

“We really felt going into the game that we had a great chance to be successful,” Head Coach Jim Hayes said.

St. Thomas’ men’s team came into this season as not only the MIAC regular season champions last season, but the Division III National Champions as well. Though they graduated five of their best players from that squad, senior guard Grant Schaeffer and junior forward Ryan Boll were both key contributors on last year’s national championship team.

“Grant Schaeffer is one of the better players in the league and he really played well in the national tournament last season,” said Hayes. “He should have been named a preseason All-American. We have some pretty good players too and we thought we had a matchup where we could break even against their top players.”

St. Thomas jumped out to an early lead against Hamline, putting the Pipers in a 8-12 hole just ten and a half minutes into the first half. From there, Hamline scored the next 11 points and went on a 20-5 overall run to put the Pipers ahead 31-17 with just over three minutes remaining in the half.

“We knew that St. Thomas was coming off a loss to Augsburg and would be trying to get back on track,” junior guard Zach Smith said. “We knew they were going to be focused and we had to take our energy to another level.”

When those last three and a half minutes had ticked off the clock, Hamline went into halftime with a 33-24 lead. Hayes’ message at halftime? Make your adjustments and keep up the intensity.

“Every halftime is really about adjustments, no matter if we’re up nine or down nine,” Hayes said. “We focused on what adjustments we felt like we needed to make and how to sustain our energy and focus for the last twenty minutes.”

Hamline could hardly relax coming out of halftime as St. Thomas went on a run of its own. From the point Hamline led by 14 in the first half with three and a half minutes left on the clock in the first half to just over five minutes into the second half, St. Thomas went on a 21-8 run and closed to within one point. Hayes called timeout.

“They closed the gap fairly early in the second half and the timeout was just to try and break their momentum,” Hayes said. “I wanted us to stay poised, not panic and just continue to execute, and I think our guys adjusted and did just that.”

Smith took control after that. Scoring 20 of his game-high 28 points in the second half, Smith relentlessly pushed the Pipers forward and whenever St. Thomas scored, Smith usually had an answer.

“While I’ve been here, we’ve let quite a few leads slip away in the last couple minutes,” Smith said. “We get good looks, it’s just a matter of putting the ball in the basket.”

Two free throws from Smith with 49 seconds left pushed the Pipers’ lead into double digits and it would stay there as the remaining seconds ticked away. The Pipers had won 74-61.

“I wasn’t too confident until there was 20 seconds left, and it was awesome to see the ball go up the court and know we had beaten them on their floor,” Smith said. “We held them to 61 points, which was just great, and we executed on offense.”

Hamline’s MIAC success continued against Carleton last Saturday. Featuring a dominant defense allowing just 69.5 points per game this season, Hamline held the Knights to 54 points, 15 points below Carleton’s season average, in a 66-54 win on Carleton’s home court.

“[Carleton] is a completely different challenge than St. Thomas,” Smith said. “Carleton has two 6’9” guys and they’re by far the tallest team in the MIAC.”

Hamline’s final non-conference game of the season and final game before the holiday break takes place this Saturday, Dec. 17, when the Pipers take on UW-River Falls in Hutton Arena. Tipoff is at 3:00 p.m.

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The student news site of Hamline University.
Winner, Winner, Tommie dinner