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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Heroic comeback over Oles gives men’s hoops share of title, propels team into postseason

<ne are usually reserved for inspirational sports movies and childhood driveway dreams.
But on Saturday, the Carleton men’s basketball team brought a Hollywood ending home to West Gym, overcoming an eight-point deficit in the closing minutes of regulation then dominating overtime to knock off archrival St. Olaf College, 84-73, and deliver the program a share of the MIAC regular-season championship, its first since 2006.

The win capped a magical conference campaign for the Knights (18-7, 17-3 MIAC), who have not lost at home all season and own a 17-game win streak at West dating back to January of 2010. Carleton shares this year’s title with St. Thomas, but thanks to a better record against the other playoff-qualifying teams, the Knights earned the top seed in the MIAC playoffs and will host Gustavus Adolphus in tonight’s semifinal at 7:30 p.m. The fifth-seeded Gusties pulled away from still-wounded St. Olaf, 90-71, in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
The Oles appeared in line for a crushing upset of the Knights on Saturday, but on Senior Day, Carleton’s veteran stars willed their team to victory. Seth Jonker ‘11 matched his career high for the second game in a row with 26 points, and Jeremy Sutherland ‘11 scored 10 of his 21 points in the last four minutes of the second half to bring the Knights back from the brink.

The game went back-and-forth as both teams executed on offense. Carleton led 33-32 at the half and the lead changed seven times to begin the second period, but with seven minutes remaining, Connor Gunderson took over, scoring 10 points in under three minutes for St. Olaf and giving the Oles a 64-56 lead with 4:20 to go.
That’s when Sutherland shifted into a new gear, however, and brought his squad roaring back. Between the four- and two-minute marks, the senior stud drained a three, tipped in a Jonker miss, then connected again from downtown. Then, with 1:18 to go, the Knights found another clutch Carl as point guard Tom Sawatzke ‘13 canned a triple to put Carleton back in front, 67-66. Gunderson responded, however, scoring quickly to put the Oles back on top, and things looked dire again for the Knights when Sutherland misfired with the shot clock winding down on the ensuing possession, giving the ball back to St. Olaf with just 33 ticks left. Forced to foul, Carleton turned to its sixth man in the stands for help, and Knight Knation responded.

The usually sweet-shooting Bobby Fong stepped to the stripe for the Oles with 21 seconds to go, but amidst the racket of a capacity crowd of Carls, he missed the front end of the one-and-one and Jonker pulled down the board. After a timeout, the Knights put the ball in the hands of their playmaker, and Sutherland delivered, drawing a foul on the drive then calmly sinking both free throws to put his team on top, 69-68, with eight seconds remaining. That’s an eternity in basketball jargon, however, and again Carleton needed help to hold on when Ole point guard Alfred Jaryan drew a foul on his drive with just one second left on the clock. Whether caused by the hand of Fate, the collective voices of Carleton’s student section, or a simple choking act, the veteran Jaryan missed his first attempt. For drama’s sake, if nothing else, he made the second, but the momentum had shifted for the last time as the game headed to overtime tied at 69.

The Knights put on their knockout gloves in the extra period, holding St. Olaf scoreless for its first four minutes while rattling off 10 points of their own. The exclamation point arrived when Sutherland’s breakaway left-handed thunder-dunk put his team up 79-69 with 1:01 to go and elicited perhaps the greatest moment of collective euphoria Carleton has witnessed since the college first permitted of-age drinking on campus in 1967.

With their fans spilling out of the bleachers, the Knights finished off the 84-73 win and celebrated their second regular-season MIAC championship in six years and fifth in program history.

The victory is especially sweet for seniors Carter Biewen, Jonker, Sutherland, and Jason Weischedel, who were honored before the Senior Day contest. Earlier this season, the foursome became the winningest senior class in program history.

The conference’s defending playoff champions are hardly satisfied, however, as they now turn their eyes to the postseason. Gustavus comes to West Gym tonight red hot after shooting a ridiculous 68.5 percent from the floor during Wednesday’s quarterfinal win over the Oles. If the Knights are to move on, their defense will need to find a way to cool off the Gusties the way it did when the teams met at West on Feb. 5 with Carleton cruising, 67-49.
Should the top-seeded Knights prevail tonight, they will host the winner of the St. Thomas-Hamline semifinal in the conference championship at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The squad will first need its best tonight, however, and with another huge turnout of Knight Knation expected for the 7:30 p.m. contest, all signs point to a second straight weekend of legendary proportions.

The film is rolling, the saga continues.

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