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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Knights end big week with playoff-clinching win

< the Carleton men's basketball team could have picked a time to get hot, this was it. The Knights decisively won all three of their games over the past week, culminating in a 68-50 stomping at St. Mary's Wednesday night that saw the team clinch its eighth consecutive trip to the MIAC playoffs and senior forward Zach Johnson move into second place on Carleton's all-time scoring list.

Johnson led the way for the Knights with 23 points Wednesday night, as Carleton put its foot down midway through the second half, turning a close game into a laugher as they outscored the host Cardinals by a 25-7 margin in the contest’s final ten minutes.

Meanwhile, the Knights’ prolific co-captain converted a three-point play with 16:16 remaining in the game to push him into second place on the college’s all-time scoring chart. Johnson ended the night with 1,915 career points, leaving him only 42 points behind Josh Wilhelm’s top spot with five games remaining in the regular season and a playoff berth now secured.

Carleton also received another impressive effort from its freshman class, as Kellan McLemore dropped a career-high 13 points in his fourth game as a starter and Blaise Davis chipped in 11.

The Knights allowed struggling St. Mary’s to keep the contest tight most of the way as Carleton shot a frigid 1-12 from three-point range in the first half. Sophomore wingman Carter Biewen’s trifecta with 9:22 to play woke up his squad, though, breaking a 43-43 tie and propelling the Knights to a barrage of long-range shooting and stifling defensive stops down the stretch to secure the victory.

With both Augsburg and Bethel losing, the win gives Carleton sole possession of second place in the MIAC heading into Saturday’s showdown with undefeated MIAC top-dog St. Thomas, the top-ranked team in all of Division III.

As sweet as Wednesday’s win proved to be, the Knights had perhaps an equally satisfying triumph Monday night as they completed a clean sweep of the season series with crosstown rival St. Olaf, winning 78-66 in front of a large, spirited West Gym crowd in what turned out to be Carleton’s 100th all-time defeat of the Oles.

“It’s a great rivalry,” said Johnson, who put on another dazzling display, carrying the offensive load for the Knights as he matched his career high for the fourth time with 36 points. “We know all the guys really well, so it’s really fun to just go out and play in an atmosphere like this where the gym’s packed.”

Quick to deflect praise, though, Johnson shrugged off the fact that he once again reached but was unable to surpass the three-dozen point mark. “It would have been nice to get one more point, but it happens,” he said. “If I made some free throws early in the game I wouldn’t have had to worry about it.”As always, the Carleton co-captain praised the total team effort. “We were just being patient, getting the ball inside. We have guys who can finish around the hoop.”

Dominating the battle in the paint was forward Bryan Rosett ’10, who put up his second straight double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds, and also showcased both his unselfishness with seven assists and his defensive prowess with three in-your-face, crowd-awing blocks and two steals. “I was just getting good looks inside,” Rosett said, “trying to get some d-boards and help the team out.” “Rosett’s just a monster inside,” raved Johnson. “He’s amazing. He rebounds, he passes, he plays defense. There’s not much more you can ask for.”

A victory over its longtime rivals was all the Carleton crowd sought, as the student section swelled to its greatest size of the year and remained standing throughout the entire contest. The Knights fans were keen to exercise their current upper hand in the rivalry with chants such as “Just Like Football,” and one oft-heckled Ole player was allegedly left punching lockers after the game in frustration. “It definitely feels good to see them get out there,” Rosett remarked of the Carleton fans. “It’s always fun when there’s a lot of guys in the crowd. It helps us get going.”

The big win Monday followed up another impressive road effort by the Knights last Saturday, when they pulled away late to beat Hamline 73-64. Johnson was quieted to a season-low 12 points, but his teammates picked up the slack as sophomore forward Seth Jonker continued his trend of beastly efforts off the bench, this time putting up a career-high 17 points. Rosett gave his customary sterling effort in all areas, recording 12 points, a career-high 15 rebounds, and seven assists, and McLemore also provided a spark with 11 points, his first time reaching double figures in what promises to be an exciting collegiate career.

After the Knights’ inspired play this week, the stage is set for an exhilarating end to the regular season, beginning Saturday when the Big Purple Machine of St. Thomas comes to campus for a 3:00 p.m. tip. The Knights will rely on experience gained from a hard-fought 83-72 loss to the Tommies earlier this year, knowing they need to take better care of the ball on offense and commit fewer turnovers to stand a chance against the nation’s top team. “They get up and pressure some guys and try to get turnovers,” noted Rosett. “We’ll probably focus on [their press].”

While a victory Saturday will require exceptional efforts on both ends of the floor, Johnson knows his team is capable. “We’ve just got to stay focused,” said the MIAC’s leading scorer. “It would be nice to get the Tommies in here on Saturday and show them how to play some ball.”

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