After falling behind by 14 points to Augsburg College in the first half, Erik Tengwall dug the St. Thomas men’s basketball team out of its hole with his career-high 25 points en route to a 82-70 win Wednesday night at Schoenecker Arena.
The Auggies (7-4 MIAC, 11-5 overall) took the lead on their first possession of the game and held on to that advantage for the next 23:00 of play. St. Thomas (10-1 MIAC, 13-3 overall) trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half until going on an 8-0 run at the end of the first half and change the momentum of the game.
“Basketball is a game of runs. Tonight was a perfect example of that,” guard Erik Tengwall said. “You know, they got off to a hot start early, but we had that run at the end of the first half and carried that into the second half and came away with the win.”
After losing their first MIAC game of the season at St. John’s Monday, St. Thomas struggled to find its groove early in the game against Augsburg. The Tommie defense allowed the Auggies to shoot 75 percent from the floor and was outrebounded 12-6 in the first half.
“(Augsburg) shot it well; that’s a credit to them. Our defense was abysmal, I thought,” coach John Tauer said. “Frankly, that’s one of our pillars that we rely on. We were not at all happy with our defense in the first half, and frankly, even in the second half, they shot 57 percent. I think we need to shore some things up.”
After trailing by 14 with nearly 6:00 remaining in the first half, the Tommies fought to regain momentum heading into halftime. With just under 2:00 to play, Tengwall hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 10 and later drove inside and added a layup.
On the ensuing Augsburg inbound pass, guard Taylor Montero intercepted then worked the ball to Tengwall, who capped off the half with another 3-pointer to complete the 8-0 run and send the Tommies to halftime trailing by just 5 points.
“I thought the run we had at the end of the first half was critical. To get it from a 14-point game to a 5-point game– which is a lot more manageable–was big,” Tauer said.
Tauer also credited Tengwall with leading the Tommies through a rough first half and helping them find their groove in the second half.
“Erik Tengwall … I thought he just had a look in his eye tonight that said, ‘We’re not going to lose this game,’” Tauer said. “Sometimes you just need that when one guy— not necessarily from a scoring perspective, but from a leadership perspective— who simply says, ‘We’re not going to lose,’ and that energy just kind of radiated to everyone else.”
The Tommies found their momentum again early in the second half as they went on a 14-4 run that culminated with 3 consecutive 3-pointers from Tengwall and forward Zach Riedeman.
“We just tried to come out in the second half and push the ball, get the tempo up, get the ball inside, get more easy looks, get them into foul trouble, and it ended up working up for us,” guard Marcus Alipate said. “The first half, it was slow. We weren’t really cutting off each other, but as the second half went on, we started to feed off each other. Erik Tengwall did a great job of leading us tonight and same with all the other teammates.”
With 8:40 remaining in the second half, the Tommies held a 5-point lead; however, Alipate then scored on 3 consecutive possessions to complete a 7-0 solo run and give the Tommies a 12-point lead. With a double-digit lead and already in the double-bonus, St. Thomas salted away the final 8:00 of the game from the free-throw line.
“I did think our energy was much better in the second half. We forced more turnovers, and that got our transition game going. I thought it was a great team win in the sense that our guys stuck together,” Tauer said. “We didn’t want to dig that deep of a hole, but I was proud of the way the guys stuck together and trusted each other.”
The Tommies have the weekend off before hosting Macalester College next Wednesday. The Scots are 2-14 overall and have not won a game since Dec. 5.
Jacob Sevening can be reached at email@example.com.