It was a week of highs and lows for the Carleton men's basketball team, as Zach Johnson broke the college's career scoring record at home on Saturday in a 64-56 win over Macalester, but the Knights struggled on the road on Wednesday night, falling to Augsburg 70-54. Carleton (16-8, 12-7 MIAC) now finds itself tied with the Auggies for third in the conference standings heading into Saturday's regular season finale at second-place Bethel, which will determine the nights' playoff seed with anything from the second spot to the fifth still possible.
Playoffs aside, Saturday turned out to be a historic Senior Day for the Knights as the team honored its three seniors, co-captains Bobby Schmitz and Johnson, and three-year player and current assistant coach Rodney Kuhl. Johnson stole the show as predicted, scoring 20 points and etching his name in the record books by breaking 1999 graduate Josh Wilhelm's all-time mark of 1,967 points.
“It's been four years and a lot of hard work by me and my teammates,” said Johnson, whose 12 points Wednesday bring his career total to 1,987. “You don't get something like this by yourself. You have to have great teammates around you.”
The much-anticipated event proved to be fittingly dramatic, as Johnson, who entered the game 12 points shy of the mark, tied the record at the free throw line with 2:09 remaining in the first half, but was unable to score again before the intermission. In the locker room, the senior forward, like a pitcher throwing a no-hitter, said he was “trying just to stay away from everybody and just be patient and get it by me.” The moment came seven minutes into the second period, when Johnson sunk the second of two free throws to set himself alone as the most accomplished scorer in the hundred-year history of Carleton basketball.
After the shot, the game was halted as the Knights' fans – students, parents, and townies alike – rose as one to salute their new scoring king. Although the dethroned Wilhelm was unable to attend, he did send a congratulatory message to head coach Guy Kalland via email, which was then read. “Congratulations to Zach and to all his teammates over the four years, as they are certainly a huge part of this accomplishment,” Wilhelm wrote. “He will never forget [this moment]. Nor will he, by the way, forget that I did it in only 97 games (wink, wink).”
After the game, Johnson, who has averaged a phenomenal 19.2 points per game over his Carleton career, was grateful for the support of his fans and thankful he could break the record in front of them. “That's really big to me,” he said. “I really wanted to get it on the court where I worked for four years and have all my home fans.”
The deed done, the Knights turned back to the matter at hand and finished off an important eight-point triumph over the hapless Scots (0-25, 0-20 MIAC). In addition to Johnson, junior forward Bryan Rosett gave an outstanding effort, collecting his sixth double-double of the season with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Starting for the second time this year, Schmitz also made an impact in his final regular-season home game, tallying six points and four rebounds in ten minutes of energetic play. “It's a big win for us,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can get that second seed in the playoffs and get that momentum going.”
Unfortunately, the Knights showed no signs of that momentum Wednesday night, as they shot a lowly 36% from the field and fell to Augsburg 70-54, their third loss in the last four games. Johnson was held to a quiet 12 points, though he did grab 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the year. The MIAC's leading scorer now has 1,987 points on his career as he seeks to become the first MIAC player since Augsburg's Devean George, better known for his NBA career, to reach 2,000.
The Knights kept the contest close for much of Wednesday, with freshman point guard Blaise Davis' three-pointer with 7:46 left in the game bringing Carleton within seven, but the Auggies (14-10, 12-7 MIAC) clamped down from there, outscoring the Knights 17-8 in the remainder of the game. Rosett chalked up 14 points for the Knights but was limited to just 3 rebounds by the Auggie big men. Augsburg dominated the boards all night, out-rebounding Carleton 42-27. Freshman guard Kellan McLemore chipped in 11 points as he continues to see increased playing time down the season's home stretch.
With the loss, the Knights find themselves in the midst of a very muddy scramble for playoff seeds. With a win on Saturday at Bethel, Carleton will secure the #2 seed, a first-round bye, and a second-round home game this coming Wednesday. Thanks to a complex set of tiebreaker rules, however, a loss could drop the Knights as low as the fifth seed, depending on the results of other contests. If the team receives the third or fourth spot, it will host a first-round game Monday night, however the fifth seed would force the Knights to play on the road that day.
Carleton's focus must still lie on Saturday's contest, though, which will be hard-fought, as the Knights, desperately seeking a win to gain all-important playoff momentum, looks to recover from Wednesday's poor performance and put aside the memory of a 15-point loss when Bethel came to West Gym on January 19th. Follow the action live starting at 3 pm on Knights Online or KDHL 920 AM.