No. 4 Tommies clinch share of first place

More news about: St. Thomas

Ryan Saarela gets past Johnnie post player Tyler Weiss en route to two of his 12 points in the Tommies' victory. More photos.
Photo by Caleb Williams, 

Senior center Ryan Saarela had his eighth double double of the season with 12 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks, and he grabbed a clutch defensive rebound with three seconds left to go to help No. 4-ranked St. Thomas hold off visiting St. John's, 69-68, in Monday conference play before a season-best crowd of 1,405 at Schoenecker Arena.

Senior Jimmy Remke added a game-high 19 points for the Tommies (20-1 overall, 15-1 MIAC), who had only four turnovers and won their 16th game in a row.

With the victory, the Toms recorded the program's 11th consecutive 20-win season, and secured at least a share of the school's 11th consecutive MIAC crown with four games to go.

The spirited game, which had UST ahead 35-34 at halftime, featured 14 lead changes and seven ties and no leads larger than six points.

The Johnnies (16-6, 11-6) had only eight turnovers and outrebounded the Toms, 38-37, but St. Thomas had eight blocked shots.

St. Thomas went ahead 69-68 on Grant Shaeffer's driving layup with 1:17 to go. After Saarela had a steal at the defensive end, UST had the ball and the lead with under 1:00 left. With the shot clock winding down, Saarela missed, and the Johnnies secured a rebound with the clock under :25 to go.

The Johnnies held for the final shot in the final 20 seconds, trailing 69-68. After a time out and a SJU dribble penetration inside, Patrick Strom took a kickout pass but missed a go-ahead shot from the corner, and Saarela rebounded with three seconds left. After two timeouts, the Toms eventually threw a long inbounds pass deep down court, and the clock ran out on during a scramble for the loose ball.

St. Thomas can secure the solo MIAC championship with one win or one St. Olaf loss over the last two weeks of the regular season. It's the second year in a row the Toms have started their season 20-1.

For SJU, Strom and Alex Schmitt each had 13 points; David Stokman added 11 points off the bench; Mitchell Kuck had 10 points and five assists; and Joe Risinger chipped in nine rebounds.

For UST, Taylor Montero had 14 points and eight rebounds, and Shaeffer had 11 points and seven assists.

Montero now has 966 career points. Saarela needs four rebounds to become just the 20th Tommie player to grab 500 on his career.

The Toms play their next three games on the road starting Wednesday night at Augsburg.