Ole men fall in basketball thriller: St. Olaf unable to overturn deficit against Tommies

On Feb. 12, the St. Olaf men’s basketball team suffered a tough loss to University of St. Thomas in a tense, exciting game that was not decided until the final seconds. The Oles put up a valiant effort but ultimately fell 51-55 to the MIAC-leading Tommies.

A huge crowd of nearly 2,000 gathered for the clash, most of whom were hoping that the Oles could continue to build on their ten-game winning streak. St. Olaf entered the game in second place in the MIAC and had an opportunity to tie St. Thomas at the top of the standings.

The Oles were never able to get going offensively but played well enough on defense to keep the game close. St. Olaf started slowly and was down by as many as 14 points in the first half. They trailed 28-20 at halftime.

The team refused to give in, and a brave second half fight-back reduced the deficit significantly. Nathan Kuck ’14 hit a 3-pointer to close the gap to two points with 1:48 left in the game, which sent the crowd into a frenzy. Kuck had eight points coming off the bench.

The Tommies hung on to their lead, however, and the Oles were never able to find themselves in front. Connor Gundersen ’14 missed a 3-pointer with three seconds left that would have tied the score, sealing the game for St. Thomas.

Justin Pahl ’16 led St. Olaf in scoring with 13 points, followed by Sterling Nielsen ’15 with 10.

“I thought it was an awesome game,” Gundersen said. “Two good teams going at it. I thought the atmosphere was great, and I give props to all the students who came out and supported us. It just didn’t go our way.”

The game was certainly lively. A large and very loud St. Olaf student section created an exciting atmosphere, which was appropriate for an intense game between two talented basketball teams.

The loss almost guarantees that St. Thomas will finish with the best record in the MIAC, but St. Olaf’s season is far from over. The Oles will enter the MIAC tournament as the second seed with the opportunity for a rematch with St. Thomas.

“We should get a playoff game and go from there, and hopefully we get the Tommies again and take them down,” Gundersen said.

St. Olaf bounced back quickly from the setback by recording a comfortable 88-37 win over Hamline University on Feb. 15. The team shot 68.5 percent from the floor, a number that almost certainly would have been enough to overcome St. Thomas.

St. Olaf now stands at 18-5 on the season, with a strong conference record of 15-3. St. Thomas improved to 16-1. This was St. Olaf’s second tough loss to St. Thomas this year. On Jan. 8 they lost 63-62 at St. Thomas on a last-second shot.