Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s safe to say the St. Thomas men’s basketball team didn’t need much time to move on from its first loss of the season.
The Tommies shot just 37 percent from the field and a worse 28 percent from three-point range in a 54-52 loss at Concordia-Moorhead Monday night. The 52 points was more than 30 points below their season average, and the loss snapped a 16-game win streak to start the season. If St. Thomas falls out of the top spot in the national rankings next week, it will have gone 1-1 as the top team.
“It’s the ebbs and flows of the season and we hope it was a blip on the radar,” said St. Thomas coach John Tauer.” They played well and they’re a good team in a balanced league. We know if we don’t play well, we can lose to any team in the conference. That’s the reality.”
It might have been a reality check for a squad that had otherwise dominated conference opponents for most of the season so far.
St. Thomas responded to that loss with an 87-46 win over visiting St. Mary’s Wednesday night. The Tommies jumped out early and led 45-23 at the half. John Nance led four players in double figures with 15 points. Tommy Hannon added 12 points and seven rebounds.
The Tommies shot 53 percent from the field in the win and their pressure defense forced St. Mary’s into 19 turnovers and 38 percent shooting. Tauer said he liked the fact that St. Thomas didn’t have much time to lament on what went wrong in the loss to Concordia-Moorhead. His team just went out and played like it was another opportunity for success.
“You could have a week off and obsess over that tape, but you just want to get back out there and show it was an anomaly,” Tauer said. “Our confidence won’t waver because of one bad game.”
St. Thomas (17-1, 12-1) is back in action Saturday afternoon, hosting Hamline (7-11, 4-9), who is still without head coach Nelson Whitmore. He was suspended indefinitely following an incident where one of his players, Eugene Lawrence, punched a woman in the face after a Hamline played in a holiday tournament on the west coast.
Since the incident, where virtually the entire team was penalized in some fashion, the Pipers lost five straight games and six of their past seven. Athletic Director Jason Verdugo, also the school’s head baseball coach, is the acting head basketball coach.
If Hamline can make a run in the home stretch, there’s a chance the Pipers could make the MIAC Playoffs. They are currently ninth in the league at 4-9, and the top six teams make the playoffs at the end of the regular season. The top two teams get first-round byes.
The Tommies still have firm control of the MIAC regular season title with a two-game lead over Augsburg at 12-1 and seven games left on the conference schedule. St. Thomas can all but lock up the regular season title and a No. 1 seed for the MIAC Playoffs if it wins at Augsburg next weekend.
But before they can look ahead, beating Hamline on Saturday is the next step.
The Pipers feature an up-tempo, fast-paced approach similar to St. Thomas. They’re led by Dior Ford, who averages 14.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Noah Aguirre also averages more than 13 points per game for Hamline.
“It’s one of those games where because of the games missed by Hamline’s players, it’s more preparing for a system than it is any player,” Tauer said. They play really up-tempo. We don’t have to worry as much about tempo, that will take care of itself. But they’re the type of team where if you blink, they bring in three guys so we have to be aware of match-ups.”
The Tommies could very well drop out of the No. 1 spot in the national rankings next week even if they beat the Pipers convincingly. It’s not something Tauer says he’s concerned about. After all, rankings are nothing but a number and an educated guess from those that follow Division III basketball.
“The polls are great to look at and people have fun looking at them. They tell us that some people think we’re pretty good, but all we know is the fact that we lost this week and need to get better,” Tauer said. “They don’t change how we practice or our approach one bit.”
If the regular season was already over, the playoff teams in order would be St. Thomas, Augsburg, Concordia, Carleton, Bethel and St. John’s. But over the next three weeks, there will be plenty of movement as teams with playoff spots at stake take each other on. That’s where the Tommies might have the greatest advantage. If they can lock up a playoff spot early, they can watch everybody else jockey for position.
“It’s fun this time of year to see how it all plays out, especially in a league with as much balance as ours,” Tauer said. “There’s still a lot of things that are going to happen.”
St. Thomas and Hamline tip off at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Anderson Athletics and Recreation Center.