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Junior Will DeBerg and freshman Conner Nord each scored 18 points in Saturday’s MIAC semifinals playoff game, leading the Tommies to a 74-64 win over Bethel University.
“I missed some shots in the first half, and my teammates kept giving me the ball (and) kept giving me confidence,” DeBerg said. “I made some adjustments and lucky enough, I made some shots,”
Tauer said he had confidence in DeBerg throughout the game.
“Will (has) been one of our more consistent scorers all year, and we always talk about trusting teammates and trusting yourself. If Will gets open shots, he’s going to knock them down eventually,” Tauer said.
Nord led the Tommies in the first half with nine points.
“(Nord) really sparked us the first half. For a freshman… he’s had a lot of responsibility,” Tauer said. “Defensively, he’s beyond his years.”
The Tommies trailed Bethel 28-27 at the end of the first half. Tauer said the team made “no major adjustments” at halftime.
“Defensively, we were solid all game long. We felt if we just took a little better care of the ball, we’d get open shots eventually,” Tauer said. “That was the main thing – be more patient and trust each other. We talk about trust all the time.”
Junior guard/forward John Nance said he is glad to see his teammates stepping up in the absence of All-American senior Tommy Hannon, who has been out with an injury since December.
“We didn’t expect Tommy to go down… so I think guys really stepped up tonight,” Nance said.
Nance scored seven points for the Tommies but said he felt like he could have played better if he wasn’t “battling the flu.”
“I didn’t really think I was going to play, (but) I was just happy to be able to contribute to the team. I thought I played pretty well, but I missed a lot of shots I could normally make,” Nance said.
Tauer said he was “thrilled to win” against such a strong team.
“Bethel has been really tough the whole second half of the season, and they have a great blend of inside and outside,” Tauer said. “I’m just really proud of our guys for how they stepped up to the physical challenge and sustained energy for 40 minutes.”
“The thing that really set us apart is that we got stops and rebounds,” Nance said. “And we were able to score when we really needed to.”
St. Thomas shot 50 percent from the floor and converted 23-29 free throws.
Junior Noah Kaiser added eight points, four rebounds and four assists, and sophomore guard Erik Tengwall chipped in six points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Junior Taylor Hall scored a game-high 25 points for the Royals.
St. Thomas will host second-seeded Gustavus at 2 p.m. Sunday in the MIAC title game. The Gusties beat St. John’s by 12 points Friday night in St. Peter.
DeBerg said the team is looking forward to playing Gustavus.
“We beat them here, they beat us there, so it’s going to be a tough one,” DeBerg said. “They’re a good team, (but) we’ll be ready.”
It’s the 26th year in a row that either St. Thomas or Gustavus are in the men’s conference playoff title game.
Friday’s win gives the Tommies their tenth 20-win season in 13 years.
Rita Kovtun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.