The St. Thomas men’s basketball team claimed a share of the MIAC regular-season title for the 11th consecutive season with its narrow 69-68 victory over long-time rival St. John’s Monday night at Schoenecker Arena.
The Tommies (20-1 overall, 15-1 MIAC) extended their winning streak to 16. Coach John Tauer said this year’s success is based on the team’s consistency and the players’ faith in each other.
“What I admire most about this team is that we’ve played 21 times and have been remarkably consistent,” Tauer said. “Tonight, in a rivalry game against a really stellar team, I thought our guys hung in there and more than anything trusted one another play after play.”
The entire game was a back-and-forth battle with neither team possessing a lead greater than six points. According to Tauer, that kind of a game is what college athletics is all about.
“That’s as good as college sports gets, when you see guys diving on the floor for loose balls,” Tauer said. “And the jubilant celebration at the end epitomizes college athletics,” Tauer said.
Forward Jimmy Remke made a big impact off the bench, with 15 points in the first half, giving the Tommies a 35-34 lead at halftime. The senior averaged only 7.6 points per game prior to Monday’s clash with the Johnnies.
“Jimmy carried us in a lot of ways in the first half,” Tauer said. “He’s a senior that plays with unbridled passion, who is a huge part of our team’s success.”
Remke said games like Monday’s are what motivates him.
“The big games are the ones everyone loves, so to perform in a big game means everything to me,” Remke said. “I’m going to remember this forever.”
After Remke’s big first half kept the game tight and the fans hooked, the second half retained the same energy.
St. John’s (16-16 overall, 11-6 MIAC) got out to a six-point lead with fewer than six minutes to play, but that lead evaporated after a couple big stops by the Tommie defense. With just over five minutes to go and the Tommies trailing by four points, guard Taylor Montero scored a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one.
A block by center Ryan Saarela ignited the St. Thomas crowd with about two minutes to go and the Tommies down by one. Guard Grant Shaeffer had a quiet offensive night, but stepped up when he was needed. He knocked down a shot to give the Tommies a 67-66 lead. And when the Johnnies went ahead again with less than two minutes to go, Shaeffer answered with a layup, bringing the score to 69-68.
Shaeffer said his early trials didn’t deteriorate his shooting mentality.
“I was struggling early, but I was happy with the shots I was getting. I just trusted in myself to make big shots,” Shaeffer said. “I always have to have the ball in my hands towards the end.”
After Shaeffer’s shots, the Tommie defense stepped up and made two crucial stops to seal the 69-68 win as St. John’s missed a 3-point play in the final seconds.
The Tommies will try to clinch the MIAC championship at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Augsburg.
Taylor Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.