We’ve just arrived back here at West Gym following the Knights’ heart-breaking 59-58 loss to UW-Stevens Point last night in the NCAA Tournament’s first round.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the final play, where Jeremy Sutherland collided with his defender trying to drive to the basket for a potential game-winning shot. After watching the video this morning, there’s no doubt it was a collision, as both players hit the floor, with the ball popping out and the Pointers’ Jerrel Harris coming up with the ball with two seconds left and running out the clock.
It was one of those bang-bang plays that happen in basketball. I think if that play happens during any other part of the game other than the very end, a foul is called one way or the other. The defender, Jared Jenkins, was (in my opinion) just a half-step late to take a legal charge, but I’m not sure a block or charge should have been called at that point. It’s a tough position for an official in that moment, and with a NCAA Tournament win on the line, but it was hard to see UW-Stevens Point get a foul call with 12 seconds left and the Knights not get one on the other end. The fact of the matter is there were lots of plays during the game that Carleton could have executed better or converted, that one simply stands out because it happened on the final play.
The Knights played so well in the second half, and Carter Biewen was a big reason, as he started the second half with consecutive three-pointers to get Carleton right back into the game. He also converted a fast-break lay-up late, and Jonker and Rosett both had big baskets down the stretch. Seth Jonker, Biewen and Bryan Rosett were a combined 13-of-18 from the field in the second half, scoring 29 of Carleton’s 34 second-half points. The Pointers did a nice job on Sutherland in the second half, forcing him into a 2-for-8 performance over the final 20 minutes after he was 3-for-4, including 2-for-2 from three-point range, in the first half. One has to wonder how Sutherland’s finger injury affected him. Not many people outside the program knew that he cut his right index finger pretty bad at the end of the Gustavus game, requiring stitches. He had the finger taped during the game, but not being able to get a firm grip on the ball with that right index finger had to make it tough. Sutherland was really the “X” factor for the Knights during this streak, averaging around 17 points per game and shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range, inserting himself into the MIAC player of the year discussion.
With all that said, what a magnificent run by the Knights over the last six weeks. They beat one top-five team in St. Thomas and narrowly lost to two other top-five teams on their home floors in St. Thomas and UW-Stevens Point. It would be hard to argue that the Knights aren’t playing some of the best basketball in Division III right now, and they’ve showed it by giving two of the top programs in the country everything they could handle and more in two hostile environments.
The Knights bid seniors Rosett and Morris Nwogwugwu farewell, and the Knights will miss their talents and leadership next season. The good news for head coach Guy Kalland is he returns everyone else and will feature a very strong senior class in Sutherland, Biewen and Jonker. While St. Thomas and Gustavus should be formidable again next year and Augsburg, St. John’s, St. Olaf and Hamline could also be dangerous as all return the bulk of its rosters, the Knights could be set up for a 20-win season and repeat NCAA Tournament berth if they can stay healthy, continue to play the type of basketball they have these last six weeks, and perhaps add a couple of key recruits, especially up front, for next season.
I can’t wait for November to get here!