Junior Will DeBerg’s team-high 15 points off the bench sparked the No. 18-ranked St. Thomas men’s basketball team (8-3, 5-1 MIAC) to a 68-53 victory over Augsburg (7-4, 4-2 MIAC) Saturday at home.
The win snaps a two-game losing streak for the Tommies and marks the first victory of the season without injured starting center Tommy Hannon.
“It was nice to finally get a win,” DeBerg said. “It kind of gives us a little separation at the top of the conference.”
With Hannon out because of a sore knee, the Tommies were forced to rely heavily on freshman center Conner Nord to match-up with one of the best frontcourts in the MIAC.
Nord stepped up to the challenge, posting his first collegiate double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds while holding senior centers Andy Grzesiak-Grimm and Cory Polta to scoring totals below their season average.
“We told our guys they don’t have to be Tommy Hannon, they just have to be themselves and play within themselves,” coach John Tauer said. “You look today at Conner Nord and the job he did against one of the top centers around in Cory Polta, and Conner played phenomenally. I think he battled unbelievably hard all game.”
Both teams battled hard in the first half, but Augsburg was unable to get into a rhythm offensively because of the Tommies’ tough defense. St. Thomas held the Auggies to a 8-23 shooting performance from the field, and Augsburg finished the first half 2-8 from the 3-point line.
“The thing we’re happiest about is we think it’s the best 40 minutes of defense we’ve played all year,” Tauer said.
The Tommies also struggled to score in the first half, shooting 12-30 from the field. DeBerg’s six points led the way for St. Thomas heading into halftime, but the game was much closer than the 31-22 score indicated.
“If we have shooting woes but we’re playing good defense…we can live with that. We don’t want to live with good shooting and lousy defense,” Tauer said. “We seemed to be rushing some shots in the first half, and I thought guys did a better job of really getting in the paint and taking what was there.”
St. Thomas began the second half with a handful of turnovers but were able to pull away from Augsburg in the final 10 minutes. Needing a spark, the Tommies looked to freshman guard Marcus Alipate.
Alipate, who finished the game with 11 points, hit two clutch 3-pointers off the bench to fuel a 13-3 second half run that pushed the lead to 54-37 with just under eight minutes left.
“I came out just ready to play, and coach Tauer told me to shoot the ball if I’m open,” Alipate said. “That’s what I did, and I’m lucky enough it went down.”
Alipate and DeBerg helped the Tommies hold a 34-11 advantage in bench points. After the game, Deberg said there are eight or nine guys who could potentially start for the Tommies on any given night.
“We don’t look at it like these are starters these are bench guys,” DeBerg said. “Everyone knows their role. I think we’ve had five or six guys led the team in scoring in different games. It’s tough to guard when we have a lot of guys who can score.”
Junior guard Tyler Schmidt led the Auggies with 15 points, and Polta added 12 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks and four assists.
St. Thomas leads St. Olaf by one-half game in the MIAC race and will play Wednesday night at Carleton.
Ryan Shaver can be reached at Shav7005@stthomas.edu