By: Colton Hall
This is it for the Presentation College Men’s Basketball team.
After a record-setting regular season in which the Saints finished 20-9 and won a share of first place in the conference, the Saints will take on Dakota State University on Wednesday at the Strode Center at 7 pm.
Despite a record season, the Saints weren’t loved by the preseason polls that had them finishing dead last.
The polls is something that has motivated the team since the beginning.
“The polls are something that drive this team,” head coach Jeremy Reigle said. “We know what our team can do, and hopefully this is just the start.”
The Saints historically have been able to bring in promising players, but the cohesion as a team wasn’t quite there.
“In the past, we’ve had some really good players,” Reigle said. “We weren’t able to get the players on the same page, but it’s our seniors that have really stepped up this year.”
Led by seniors Mychal Deas and Quadre Lollis, the Saints seem poised for a play-off run that has been a long time coming.
While the seniors are enjoying a breakout season, things haven’t always been sunshine and rainbows. Lollis and Deas were a part of a 2017-2018 Saints team that went 12-15, and ultimately missed the playoffs.
“Last year, we had a problem with coming together,” Deas said. “Our connection wasn’t quite there, but that’s changed. We believe in ourselves and each other.”
Lollis is leading the team in scoring and rebounding (18.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg), while Deas has been the Robin to Lollis’s Batman averaging (13.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg).
Lollis has been averaging seven more points per game for the Saints compared to last year.
“I just knew I was going to need to do more,” Lollis said. “I stayed in Aberdeen all summer and worked out wanting to be the best for my last year. I just wanted to show people who I am as a player.”
Deas has also seen his scoring go up as he is averaging almost four more points per game.
“I got hurt last year for half the year,” Deas said. “This year, I have a little bit more freedom, but my teammates set me up to be successful.”
Newcomers Ange-Michel Kuo (8.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Devonta Brooks (11.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg) have been welcome additions to the Saints squad.
Kuo, or “Fred” as his teammates call him, is a transfer from Glendale Community College while Brooks transferred from Oklahoma Panhandle State University.
Together Kuo and Brooks man the inside.
“Both those guys have come in and done a great job of rebounding,” Reigle said of Fred and Brooks. “Being able to have that kind of depth and get that kind of production has been huge for us.”
One player that has come through for the Saints has been Elijah Coleman. Coleman has a couple of game winners against conferences opponents Dickinson State University and Mayville State University and is averaging about 11 points per game.
“He’s really stepped up,” Reigle said of Coleman. “He continues to be one of those guys that we trust with the ball in his hands with the game on the line.”
Jalen Guidry, a transfer from Northern Eastern Community College has filled in at point guard and taken control of the position.
“He’s done such a great job of unselfish passing,” Reigle said. “His unselfishness only makes all of our guys better.”
Rounding out the Saints are leaders like Tayton Maher and Sean Schuring. These two may not fill up the stat book every game, but their value to the team is irreplaceable.
“Those two just always keep us together,” Reigle said. “They keep everybody on the same page making sure everybody knows where they’re at and what they’re doing.”
Things just seem different this year. The reason for the drastic improvement so quickly?
“Everybody bought in,” Reigle said. “I think it starts with our seniors, [Deas and Lollis] have done a really good job of setting the tone for our program this year. Everyone’s put their ego aside, and we all just want to win collectively.”
The season didn’t start as planned for the Saints. The Saints started their first 10 games with a record of 4-6 before they went to play Shawnee State University in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
The Saints were on a two-game losing skid and needed something big to happen against the NAIA D1 opponent.
Something big did happen.
Never mind the fact that the Saints took down Shawnee State because that it’s an upper level D1. What’s more impressive is what happened after the win.
The Saints went on a four-game winning streak before going on to enjoy two separate five-game winning streaks.
“That’s the game that turned our season around,” Lollis said of the Shawnee State game. “It was right there that our team looked at each other realized what we could do if we stayed together.”
The Saints have played like there is no tomorrow all season. Don’t expect that to change in the playoffs.
“It’s business as usual,” Deas said. “Nobody still expects us to be where we are. “We’ve been playing like it could be our last game every game. We’re just going to take it one day at a time.”
The time is now for this team. Regular season records don’t mean anything at this point. It’s now or never.