By Jeff Wald

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The hopes for an undefeated MIAC season came to an end for the St. Thomas men’s basketball team on Monday with a 77-69 loss at rival St. John’s.

That loss ended a six-game win streak for the No. 11-ranked Tommies, but it didn’t take long to get back in the winning column. Despite a 14-point first half deficit Wednesday night against Augsburg, St. Thomas rallied for an 82-70 victory over the Auggies.

St. Thomas went 9-1 during the first round of the league schedule and now at 10-1, the Tommies have a one-game lead for first place over St. Olaf, one of the early surprises in the MIAC. Gustavus, Augsburg, Bethel and St. John’s have the next four spots. The top six teams at the end of the regular season make the playoffs. Only the MIAC playoff champion is guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Division III Tournament.

“It was good to get back in the left hand column. Augsburg came in on a six-game win streak and we were down 14 at one point in the first half. To say we were a little concerned would be an understatement.”

Eric Tengwall scored 25 points to lead the Tommies in that win. He shot 6-of-10 from the field and 10-of-14 at the free-throw line.

St. Thomas now has a week off before it hosts Macalester next Wednesday. The Scots have just two wins on the season and are 1-10 in league play. Wednesday’s win ended a hectic stretch that included seven games in 14 days.

“Having a week off will definitely help us. We’ll have practice, but our guys need a little rest. It’s the longest break we’ll have the rest of the season.”

The important piece for the Tommies is to maintain a spot as one of the top two teams in the MIAC by the end of the regular season. The top two seeds get first-round byes and each get a home semifinal game. The top seed plays at home as long as it wins.

If Monday’s loss on the road at St. John’s is any indication, it’s crucial to play at home as often as you can. Tauer said having home court is one of three things he looks for heading into the playoffs.

“You want home court, to have everyone healthy and to be playing your best basketball,” Tauer said. “They’re sort of inter-twined. We don’t really talk about it a lot, but the guys know what’s at stake.”

After hosting Macalester, the Tommies travel to Carleton and Hamline before hosting Bethel on Feb. 5. St. Thomas travels to St. Olaf on Feb. 12 in what very well could be a game to decide the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

Tauer said the biggest thing he’s seen from his squad this year is a sense of grit and mental toughness. Several times, St. Thomas has had to come back from double-digit deficits to claim victories.

“In a long season there will be ups and downs. You will be hard-pressed to turn down going 9-1 after the first turn in the MIAC,” Tauer said. “This team has some toughness to it. Our guys have really battled every night.”

St. Thomas hosts Macalester at 7:30 p.m. next Wednesday in St. Paul.


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