Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The St. Thomas basketball team is in the grind of its conference schedule, but it’s been making things look rather easy lately.
The Tommies moved up to No. 2 in the nation in a Division III poll on Tuesday after beating Augsburg 94-52 last Saturday and cruising past Bethel 90-48 on Monday. In that game, the Tommies took a 42-12 lead into the locker room at halftime.
If St. Thomas can knock of St. John’s Saturday afternoon, look for the Tommies to became the new No. 1 team in the nation on Monday. That’s because the current No. 1-ranked team, North Central College, lost to Carthage College 64-53 Wednesday night.
Regardless of the rankings, it’s been an impressive stretch for St. Thomas. The Tommies beat Gustavus 81-60 Wednesday night to improve to 8-0 in MIAC play. So far in conference play, St. Thomas has beaten every conference opponent except for Carleton by at least 20 points.
“To win three games like that in a stretch where we have seven in 15 days, we’re thrilled,” said St. Thomas coach John Tauer. “Offensively our numbers are really good across the board, defensively our experience is paying off right now. We’re just locked in defensively. They’re doing things that come only through experience and communication.”
The scary part for St. Thomas is they’re averaging almost 86 points per game on the season, and their leading scorer averages just more than 13 points per game. Their balanced scoring attack makes the Tommies very difficult to guard.
“We’re blessed to have a lot of weapons. We have 9 or 10 guys who could score 15 or more every night,” Tauer said. “They’re just as happy to make the extra pass as they are to score.”
St. Thomas hosts MIAC rival St. John’s Saturday afternoon in a game that will be televised locally on Channel 45. The rivalry may not be as big on the basketball court as it is on the football field, but the game is just as important.
The Johnnies enter the contest having lost four straight games and five of their past six. Their leading scorer, Seth Marx, averages 11 points per game. Chris Neumann and Mitchell Kuck each add more than eight points per game.
St. Thomas will need to play at its pace and be efficient on both ends of the floor, Tauer said, to get the win. The Johnnies will look to slow the game down to stay in the game.
“It should be a fun atmosphere against SJU, we had a great crowd against Augsburg,” Tauer said. “We’ve got to show up every night and prove ourselves, they’re capable of beating anyone.”
St. Thomas also knows now with its perfect 13-0 record and 12 MIAC games left, the Tommies will get every opponent’s best effort on a nightly basis. There isn’t talk of an undefeated season yet, but the possibility is there if they keep playing like they have been.
The Tommies final stretch of MIAC play includes trips to Carleton and Augsburg, a home game against Bethel and trips to Gustavus and St. John’s. All of them should be tough contests regardless of what’s already happened.
“I’d be lying if I said the players never thought about rankings or going undefeated, but the goal isn’t to be ranked,” Tauer said. “The goal is to be playing great, and our guys desire to be excellent.”
No. 2-ranked St. Thomas (13-0) and St. John’s (3-9) tip off at about 3 p.m. Saturday on Channel 45 with Dan Terhaar providing the play-by-play and Tori Holt will provide sideline reporting.