Fifth-ranked Tommies rally late to edge St. Olaf

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NORTHFIELD, Minn. – The fifth-ranked University of St. Thomas closed the game on a 13-0 run to edge the St. Olaf College men's basketball team by an 85-78 margin to remain unbeaten in Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) play on Wednesday night at Skoglund Center.

After trailing by as many as 23 points in the first half, St. Olaf (11-11, 10-7 MIAC) fought back to claim a 78-72 lead with 4:22 remaining in the game. However, St. Thomas (21-1, 17-0 MIAC) scored the game's final 13 points, including 11 from Anders Nelson, to escape with the victory and record its 21-straight win after a season-opening loss.

Despite the loss, the Oles clinched their fifth berth in the MIAC Playoffs in the last six seasons with results elsewhere on the night. St. Olaf currently sits fifth in the MIAC standings, two games behind Augsburg and Bethel with three games remaining.

Junior Troy Diggins Jr. shot 11-for-18 from the field on his way to a career-high 27 points and nine rebounds. Diggins Jr. was one of five Oles in double figures on the night. Senior Sam Stensgard scored a career-high 15 points off the bench and junior Noah Beck had 12 points and a career-high seven assists. Sophomore Dominic Bledsoe added 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists and senior Frank Delaney posted 10 points, five rebounds and three assists.

The Tommies scored the game's first 10 points over the opening two minutes and made their first eight shots from the field on their way to a 19-9 lead at the 15:32 mark of the first half. The Oles trimmed their deficit to six, 19-13, before a 21-4 run for St. Thomas gave the visitors a 40-17 lead with 8:41 to go before the break.

The Oles countered with a 12-0 run that included a pair of three-pointers from Stensgard to get within 11, 40-29, with 5:09 left in the half. After the Tommies pushed their lead back to 14, St. Olaf scored the final six points of the half, including a Stensgard jumper at the buzzer, to get within eight, 53-45, at the break.

Early in the second half, the Oles closed to within two, 55-53, with 15:44 on the clock after back-to-back three-pointers from Delaney and Diggins Jr. St. Thomas extended its lead back to seven a minute and a half later before Stengard eventually evened the game at 70-70 with 9:02 left with a layup.

On St. Olaf's next possession, Stensgard drained a three-pointer to give the Oles their first lead of the night, 73-70. St. Olaf took its biggest lead of the evening at 78-72 with 4:22 to go after consecutive layups from Bledsoe and Diggins Jr.

With the Tommies down by six, back-to-back layups by Nelson made it a two-point game before Riley Miller hit a three with 1:59 to go to put St. Thomas back ahead by one, 79-78. Another Nelson layup with 1:10 left made it an 81-78 lead for the Tommies and Nelson hit four-straight free throws to seal the victory. St. Olaf missed its final eight shots of the game after Diggins Jr.'s layup with 4:22 remaining.

St. Thomas shot 60.6 percent (20-for-33) from the field, including 60.0 percent (9-for-15) from behind the arc, in the opening half, but cooled off to 38.7 percent (12-for-31) overall and 16.7 percent (2-for-12) from long range in the second half.

Nelson led St. Thomas with 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists. The Tommies enjoyed a 38-18 advantage in bench points in the game, as Burt Hedstrom (13), Elijah Hannah (12) and Miller (11) each contributed double-digit points off the Tommie bench. Connor Bair chipped in with 10 points and five rebounds.

St. Olaf hosts No. 17 Saint John's University on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 3 p.m. The Oles will celebrate their five-man senior class prior to tipoff against the Johnnies.