St. Thomas shoots down St. Mary's upset bid

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Connor Bair scored 21 points and the No. 6-ranked Tommies used a 34-8 advantage in bench scoring to hold off host St. Mary's, 94-81, in MIAC men's basketball play Saturday afternoon in Winona.

After securing a tie for the title 10 days earlier, St. Thomas (22-3 overall, 19-2 MIAC) finally was able to lock up sole possession of the conference title as it ended a two-game losing skid and edged St. John's by one game. The Purple will be the No. 1 seed in next week's playoffs and host a semifinal game Thursday (8 p.m.) after the St. Thomas women play.

The league championship was the 13th on 14 seasons for the Tommie men, and the seventh in eight seasons under head coach John Tauer.

After finishing fifth in the conference last season -- and picked for fourth in the coaches' preseason poll -- St. Thomas went 9-1 on the road and 9-1 at home to post a six-win improvement over the 12-8 MIAC record of 2017-18.

On Saturday, the trailed by 12 points midway through the first half. SMU sank eight treys in the opening half and led 43-42 at the break. The game was tight most of the way before the Toms used a 10-2 run to build a 12-point cushion with 2:48 left.

The Toms were outscored 36-18 from 3-point range but made 17-of-22 first-half shots and finished the game converting 62 percent from the field. They also had a 34-24 rebounding edge, and a 20-9 edge in free-throw scoring.

Elijah Hannah made all six of his shots and finished with 15 points off the bench. Michael Hannon had 15 points and seven assists. GT Johnson added 13 points.