MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – With a MIAC regular season conference title already won, the St. Thomas men’s basketball team hosted rival St. John’s on Saturday on Senior Day.
Four seniors played their final regular season home game for the Tommies, and they walked off the court disappointed following a 76-69 loss to the Johnnies. St. Thomas finished the regular season 18-2 in the league and 21-4 overall.
The Tommies got some rest this week as the four of the six teams in the MIAC Playoffs hit the court Wednesday night. The winners advance, and the losers are done. When the night was over, Gustavus beat St. John’s and Bethel beat Augsburg, setting up Friday night’s semifinals. St. Thomas will host Bethel, and St. Olaf will host Gustavus. The winners meet Sunday afternoon for the championship and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
If the No. 12-ranked Tommies ended up winning the playoff title, they can thank Gustavus for some help along the way. The Gusties’ win over St. John’s assured that St. Thomas won’t have to play the Johnnies a third time after getting swept during the regular season. There’s also a good chance that if both St. Thomas and St. Olaf reach the MIAC title game, both are securely in the NCAA Tournament field.
Saturday’s loss was a tough one in front of more than 1,500 fans at a packed house at Schoenecker Arena. The Tommies got out to an early 12-4 lead and had a 36-29 lead at the half. St. John’s outscored St. Thomas 47-33 in the second half to claim the victory.
St. Thomas now has its eyes on the MIAC Playoff title, which would be its eighth in the last nine years. The Tommies will host a Bethel team Friday night that they beat twice during the regular season. In the first match-up in Arden Hills, Cortez Tillman scored 23 points and Zach Riedeman added 14 in an 81-68 victory for St. Thomas. The Tommies put up 53 points in the second half of that game to pull away for the win after leading 32-28 at the half.
St. Thomas completed the regular season sweep on Feb. 5 with a 65-56 win that was fairly close the whole contest. Riedeman led the Tommies with 19 points in that game, and Erik Tengwall added 15.
The Tommies enter Friday night’s contest having an eight-game win streak snapped. They’re shooting 48 percent from the field on the season, 76 percent from the free-throw line and averaging about 10 turnovers per game. The Tommies are getting their wins on defense, where they average nearly five steals per game and force more than 14 turnovers.
St. Thomas also has the most wins in Division III from 2008-13 with 135. That mark of 135-17 includes a 98-11 mark against MIAC opponents.
Bethel got to the MIAC semifinals with a 70-67 win at Augsburg Wednesday night. Brycen Wojta led the Royals with 15 points and Quinn Gorski added 11. When St. Thomas and Bethel met in their first game this season, Wojta had 20 points. In the second meeting, Luke Buttenhoff led the Royals with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Bethel comes in scoring nearly 66 points per game on average this season and is shooting about 46 percent from the field. The Royals are shooting about 36 percent from three-point range on the season and 69 percent from the free-throw line.
St. Thomas and Bethel square off at 7:30 p.m. Friday, with the winner advancing to the MIAC title game Sunday afternoon. St. Thomas would host the St. Olaf/Gustavus winner, and Bethel would be hitting the road again if the Royals win.