HELENA — Carroll College men’s basketball coach Carson Cunningham feels his team needs to find new ways to score.
When asked about his opinion on Tuesday night games in the Frontier Conference — every team save Lewis-Clark State plays one – Cunningham didn’t pay much attention.
“Well it doesn’t really matter to us,” Cunningham said on Tuesday night, shortly after his team suffered its second setback of the season.
As the Saints struggled through their most futile offensive effort of the season, Cunningham didn’t view playing on a Tuesday as the catalyst — although both the Carroll-Rocky men’s and women’s games were ugly affairs. The majority of the conference games are played on Thursdays and Saturdays, and a Tuesday night affair creates three games in six days scenario.
The No. 2-ranked Saints shot just 31 percent from the field and 20 percent from the 3-point line, a far cry from their nation-leading field goal percentage of 56.
On a night when shots weren’t falling, it was the trips to the free-throw line, particularly the limited attempts by star senior Ryan Imhoff, that were the subject of Cunningham’s ire.
After dismissing the notion of playing on Tuesday having an effect on either team, Cunningham offered: “We’re just going to have to find ways to score. It seems like suddenly in this state, Imhoff doesn’t get to the line, so we have to adjust to that. If we go elsewhere and he gets calls or gets to the line we have to adjust to the new normal. So now we’re going to have to find new wrinkles, which will help us I think, if we find new ways to get him in space.”
He continued: “We’re always obviously going to have to try to figure out a way to knock down the open shots we have been getting. We have a lot to work on. You have to be willing to adapt and adjust to your surroundings and then figure new ways to score. That’s what we have to figure out. As long as we have a super strong defensive effort, I think the offense will come.”
Imhoff shot just three free throws on Tuesday, making two. On the season he’s averaging more than five attempts per game, though in games when he logs more minutes – Frontier games and nonconference games against better teams – his attempts have mostly been higher.
And when the Saints struggled to score on Tuesday, additional trips to the free-throw line surely would have helped the No. 1 team in the NAIA at the stripe (83 percent).
The Saints did get good looks on Tuesday, but hardly anything fell. The offense never found a rhythm and Rocky hung around until building a lead late. The Saints can take solace knowing, on average, they make shots at a much higher clip and they’re a healthy team.
Cunningham was able to run through most of his roster on Tuesday, looking for a spark offensively.
He gets another chance to find that at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Butte. The Saints swept the Orediggers a season ago, but now Carroll enters its contest against Butte needing to prove itself after losing two consecutive games, the second in stunning fashion.
The Orediggers are sitting at the bottom of the league, starting out 0-3 in conference. Second-year coach Adam Hiatt is looking for his second-ever conference win, having gone 1-17 in Frontier games a season ago.
There are bright spots for the Orediggers. Ranking No. 1 in the NAIA in turnover margin (7.5), Montana Tech takes care of the ball. Part of that can be attributed to guard Chris O’Neill, who has a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. The returning second-team all-conference guard is averaging 11.3 points per game and 3.6 assists.