First half run lifts St. Olaf past Bethel

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ARDEN HILLS, Minn. - The St. Olaf College men's basketball team used a 19-0 run in the first half to break open a one-point game on its way to a 92-64 road victory over Bethel University on Tuesday night at Robertson Center Gym.

With just under eight minutes to go in the first half, back-to-back baskets from first year Jake Weber sparked a 19-0 run by St. Olaf that included two three-pointers from first year Charlie Haff and another from senior Troy Diggins Jr. to take a 20-point lead over Bethel (3-2, 1-1 MIAC), as the Oles would stay on top for the remainder of the contest. The run included five different scorers from St. Olaf as the Oles held the Royals scoreless for over seven minutes.

St. Olaf's 92 points ties the most points the Oles have scored in a game since a 98-62 victory over Concordia-Moorhead on Jan. 20, 2018. The Oles also scored 92 in a 92-81 win against Bethany Lutheran on Dec. 4, 2017.

Haff had a career-best 15 points and eight rebounds and senior Nate Albers added 15 points and six rebounds. Diggins Jr. added 14 points for the Oles and junior Dominic Bledsoe had 10 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals.

The first eight minutes of the game saw seven lead changes. After the Oles were down four, baskets from first year Michael Merriggioli, senior Noah Beck and Bledsoe evened the score at 19-19 with 12:31 to go. Bledsoe sank a three-pointer to put St. Olaf up 22-19 and the Oles would hold on to the lead for the remainder of the half.

The Oles took a five-point lead halfway through the half after three-pointer from Bledsoe and a layup from sophomore Nathan Hendler. A free throw and a layup from the Royals brought Bethel within one at 26-25.

St. Olaf got two three-pointers from Haff and another from Diggins Jr., as the Oles took a 20-point lead on a 19-0 run that started at 7:53. The St. Olaf run started with with back-to-back baskets from Weber, followed by a three-point play from Albers. A jumper from Hendler gave St. Olaf a 45-25 lead with 1:10 left in the half.
In the final minute of the half, Diggins Jr. answered a pair of Bethel free throws with a jumper, and a first year Mac Hubbard three-pointer put St. Olaf back up 20 at 50-30 heading into the half.

The Royals and the Oles traded baskets in the first five possessions of the second half and three-pointers from Diggins Jr. and Albers kept St. Olaf's lead at 56-35. 

Bethel scored three-straight baskets and got within 19 of St. Olaf at 65-46, with 11:38 left in the contest. A pair of free throws, followed by a basket behind the arc from Albers extended the St. Olaf's lead to 24, 75-51, with just under eight minutes remaining in the game.

The Oles scored seven-straight points, including free throws from Diggins Jr. and Hubbard to give St. Olaf a 33-point lead at 86-53, with 3:56 to go. St. Olaf would lead by as many as 34 points in the contest.

St. Olaf shot 58.3 percent from the floor, along with 11 three-pointers, while holding the Royals to just 37.1 percent shooting in the game. The Oles bench recorded 40 points in the contest. 

St. Olaf continues Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) play on Wednesday, Dec. 4 as the Oles travel to Augsburg for a 7:45 p.m. tip off.