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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Knights defeat Cobbers, 76-54

<lfway through Wednesday night's game, trailing 34-31 to visiting Concordia, the Carleton men's basketball team looked in grave danger of dropping its second straight game to a sub-.500 team and making its push for the MIAC playoffs all the more difficult.

The Knights, though, had other plans, shaking off their first-half rust and responding with an emphatic 12-2 run to start the second half, giving them the momentum needed to husk away the Cobbers for a 67-54 victory. Senior forward Zach Johnson led the charge with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists on the night for his third double-double of the season. The win pushes the Knights (12-5, 8-4 MIAC) into a three-way tie for third place in the conference, even with Augsburg and Gustavus.

“It’s really huge as we come around the second half of this season,” said sophomore standout Seth Jonker, who gave the Knights another inspired effort off the bench Wednesday, scoring 13 points in 26 minutes of action. “We want to start sweeping teams and hopefully lead up to where we’re fighting for St. Thomas in the playoffs.”

Defensively, Carleton cranked up the heat the second half holding their northern foes to just a 9-27 mark in the second frame after Concordia shot a jaw-dropping 78% (14-18) from the floor in the first. “[Coach Guy Kalland] wanted to make sure we were contesting shots more just so they’d start missing,” said Jonker. “He figured once we did that, then we’d pull away, which is what happened.”

A key part of the Knights’ turnaround in energy came from freshman point guard Miles Silbert. Starting in place of counterpart Blaise Davis, sidelined with lower back pain for the second straight game, Silbert gave his squad a huge boost midway through the second half when he picked the pocket of the Cobbers’ Erik Lien, took the ball all the way to the other end of the court and made a layup while drawing a foul from an angered opponent. After sinking the free throw for a hard-earned three-point play, the 6-foot Silbert hustled back on defense and blocked the shot of a taller Cobber, giving the ball back to the Knights and setting the stage for his team to pull away with a much needed victory.

“Every single day, those freshmen guys, they come to practice and they work really, really hard,” Jonker added. “It’s starting to pay off, Kellan [McLemore] and Miles are making big defensive plays. They’re finishing when they need to, and they’re being patient and not turning it over which is great.”

On two of the Knights’ three possessions following Silbert’s heroics, Johnson also demonstrated great leadership, recognizing double-teams when he had the ball and finding an open Jonker for layups both times with nifty passes.

“Especially as we start playing teams the second time around, they’re obviously going to be keying on Zach because he’s having an all-star season,” Jonker noted. “He makes it clear that we need our role players to step up. It’s great that he has that understanding.”

It will take those kinds of extra efforts for the Knights to reach the Promised Land of the MIAC postseason, especially after a tough 65-63 loss on the road Saturday to a Saint John’s squad that entered the game just 7-9 on the season.
A bright point on that day was Jonker, who posted a career-high 15 points and also added 8 rebounds. “My shot finally started falling down,” he said. “It was great to have that happen in a really close game.”

Unfortunately, it was not quite enough as the Knights fell behind midway through the first half, and despite neither team ever building a double-digit lead throughout the entire contest, were never able to get back over the hump. Johnson also had 15, but his attempt to win the game with a buzzer-beating trey rimmed out, dooming the conference’s leading scorer to tie his season-low points total.

“Pretty much every MIAC game is gonna come down to a few possessions here and there,” said Jonker. “We’re learning how to fight for the last four minutes of a game. Every possession, every part of the possession matters defensively and offensively. Sometimes it just doesn’t go our way, and that’s stuff you have to bounce back from.”

After Wednesday’s encouraging win, the Knights will travel to Hamline for a 3 p.m. bout on Saturday, then return home to host St. Olaf Monday night at 7:45 in the Cannon River rivalry’s second installment of the year. The Goat Trophy already securely on the East side of town for another year after Carleton’s triumph in December, the Knights will only be playing for bragging rights and their playoff ambitions this time, but Jonker knows they cannot get ahead of themselves.

“We still have to take it game by game even though we have Olaf coming around the corner,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to look forward to a rivalry like that, but in the MIAC you can never take a game off.”

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