NORTHFIELD, Minn. -- Tom Sawatzke (Sr./Monticello, Minn./Monticello) did it again.
With the game tied, under a minute to play, and the shot clock running down, the senior guard drained a contested three-pointer to put the Carleton College men’s basketball team ahead for good in its quarterfinal playoff matchup with Bethel University. The big-time triple, part of Sawatzke’s team-high 19 points on the night, further cemented the senior guard into Knight’s basketball lore and helped push Carleton (16-10, 13-8 MIAC) past the Royals by a score of 48-43 and into the MIAC playoff semifinals.
The shot—included in the video highlights above—came with just 45 seconds remaining on the clock and was one of three triples on the night for Sawatzke. It marked his third game-winning shot against Bethel University in just over a calendar year.
Tyler Goetz (Sr./Chaska, Minn./Chaska), who scored 10 points and pulled down seven rebounds, knocked down two three-pointers of his own, including one that erased Bethel’s (15-11, 11-10 MIAC) final lead of the game with 2:35 left. In addition to Sawatzke and Goetz, Carleton also received a key performance from fellow senior Scott Theisen (Champlin, Minn./Champlin). Theisen—who was recently named to the D3hoops.com national team-of-the-week—chipped in eight points, 10 rebounds, six steals, and three assists to the effort.
The victory for the Knights means that they will move on to the MIAC playoff semifinals, marking the 15th time in Coach Guy Kalland’s career that his squad has reached the round of four. Carleton will face MIAC regular-season champion and national No. 1 Saint Thomas University on Friday, Feb. 22 at 7:30 pm in St. Paul.
Although both teams—especially Sawatzke and Bethel forward Taylor Hall, who put up 21 points to lead all scorers on the night—turned on the offensive intensity over the game’s final minutes, the rest of regulation was defensively focused. Each side was limited to a season-low scoring output.
The first half was the definition of defensive-minded, grind-it-out playoff basketball. Both squads buckled down on the defensive end, and Carleton in particular put on a defensive clinic over the game’s opening 20 minutes.
The Knights held Bethel to just 23-percent (6-for-26) shooting from the field, and forced the Royals into seven turnovers. In addition, Carleton out-rebounded the visitors by a tally of 22-to-14 in the opening period and built up a 17-7 lead with 5:28 to go in the half. The advantage held over the rest of the half, thanks in large part to 11 first-half points from Sawatzke, and the Knights went into halftime holding a 25-13 advantage.
Early in the second half, Bethel worked its way back into the contest. Thanks to improved 40 percent shooting from the field and a 24-to-14 second-half rebounding edge, Bethel put together an extended 20-8 run over the opening nine minutes of the second period. The run, which featured 10 points from Hall, leveled the score at 33-33 with 11:00 to play.
After trading buckets to knot the game up at 35-35 with 8:18 to go, both team’s defense’s buckled down even more. Neither the Royals nor the Knights scored a point over the game’s next three minutes and thirty seconds, with Bethel finally breaking the offensive ice on a layup with 4:48 to go. That bucket gave the Royals their first lead of the contest, a lead that was soon increased to four after a Hall jumper made the score 39-35 with 4:12 on the clock.
Although momentum seemed to be on the Royals’ side, Sawatzke soon stepped up and shook a crowded West Gym back to life. Ending a Carleton scoring drought that lasted over six minutes, Sawatzke drilled a three-pointer at the 3:13 mark to pull the Knights within one. On the next possession, Carleton went deep again to take back the lead, 41-39, with Goetz drilling a shot from downtown.
Bethel then tied the game back up on a Hall jumper with just over two minutes to play, setting up Sawatzke’s late-game heroics. After Theisen pulled down a rebound with 1:18 to play, Carleton set up its offensive hoping to re-take the lead. The Knights, however, could find no gaps in the Bethel defense. With the shot-clock quickly running down, Sawatzke held the ball at the top of the key. Moving to his right, the guard created just enough space to rise and fire from beyond-the-arc just before the shot-clock expired. Although the contested look was not the best, it was good enough for Sawatzke, who swished the triple to put the home team back on top for good, 44-41, and send the Carleton faithful into a frenzy.
Although the Royals pulled to within one on their next possession, the Knights, who have struggled from the charity-stripe over the past few games, converted on their free throws down the stretch. Both Theisen and Goetz nailed a pair with under half-a-minute to play, and Carleton held a 48-43 lead as time expired.
Live audio of the MIAC Semifinal will be available on KDHL 920 AM in the Northfield/Faribault area and worldwide on Knights Online.