Gene's Blog: Wow moments wanted (no experience necessary)

There were two remarkable individual statistical linescores last week in MIAC men's basketball. Both had totals not seen in a conference game since perhaps the 1990s, and possibly earlier.

St. Thomas recorded one of those "Wow" performances... and survived the second one.

Tommie junior guard John Veil had a 27-point, 12-assist night in 36 game minutes in last Wednesday night's nine-point road win at first-place Bethel.

Then in UST's 62-61 overtime road win on Saturday at Carleton, the Toms won despite a 19-point, 25-rebound day by Knights' junior Kevin Grow. It was already Grow's 27th career double double, and his 25 boards broke a 32-year-old Carleton record.

In all, the Toms went 3-0 last week, all on the road, and all without injured ace senior point guard Grant Shaeffer. That pushed their win streak to five and extended the program's January record to 98-12 over the last 12 seasons.

"Through inexperience, youth, and injuries," said UST coach John Tauer, "this team has been stellar in terms of cohesiveness, accepting roles, redefining these roles, and finding a way to play gritty and intelligent basketball."

On a night at Bethel with Shaeffer out, the Toms had a lineup that boasted one returning starter, 13 percent of their scoring and 21 percent of their rebounding from last winter's 30-3 NCAA championship season.

The Royals by contrast had all five starters, 74 percent of their scoring, and 68 percent of their rebounding from a 19-9 team that pushed the Toms to the brink in the conference playoffs.

BU led 70-69 but a late 10-0 Tommie run won the night. 

"John Veil's performance at Bethel was one of the all-time great performances by a UST guard," Tauer said. "On the road, at the conference leader -- a team that plays exceptional defense -- with Grant Shaeffer out with injury, John responded with 27 points, 12 assists, and one turnover. His heady play, composure, and confidence have all grown over the past three years."

To put Veil's numbers into context:

  • It's believed to be the first time an MIAC men's player had 12 assists and 25 or more points in one game in at least 16 seasons (statistics on the conference website only go back through 2001-2002).
  • Veil's previous career highs were 15 points and six assists in 29 minutes. This was just his fourth career double-figure scoring game.
  • His final totals revealed a 12-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
  • Playing in his 56th career game, Veil sank four 3-point baskets. He had only made 13 treys in his first 55 career games.
  • In last season's game at Bethel, Veil came off the bench and played seven minutes with no points, no assists and two turnovers. He had no points in six career games vs. Bethel (twice did not play).
  • Veil's performance helped St. Thomas move to 13-0 on the Bethel campus since February 2004.
  • Veil had 14 points and played a game-high 42 minutes in Saturday's overtime defeat of Carleton.

It's likely that Veil's 12 assists were the most by a Tommie in a conference game. The St. Thomas single-game assist record is 14 set 45 seasons ago by Paige Piper against Mayville State.

Shaeffer had a 12-assist game in the season opening loss to UW-River Falls. Sean Sweeney (2002-06) had two 11-assist games as a senior. Lonnie Robinson had a 10-assist game as a junior in the 2008 NCAA playoff loss to Buena Vista.


Developing Game

"John came to St. Thomas with no guarantees of playing time but an opportunity to improve and be a part of special teams," Tauer said. "On last season's national championship team, John played behind Grant Shaeffer and Cortez Tillman, one of the top backcourts in the country. During that time, John improved and learned from two outstanding veteran guards.

"This season, John has stepped into a starting role and played solid defense, taken excellent care of the ball, and scored well. Watching an outstanding young man such as John have success after working diligently for two years is gratifying. One of the hallmarks of our program has been a goal of sustained excellence. To do that, we have to have young players who commit to the process of growth and development. John's leadership and play during the last week during three conference road games against extremely tough competition exemplifies these qualities." 

On Saturday, as victories go, the 62-61 overtime win at Carleton was... well, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Yes, the 45 minutes of action had some dead spots, but Tauer and Co. will take the outcome. They scored the game's last nine points. The last five came over the final 45 seconds as GT Johnson banked in a 3-point shot (his first career trey), and fellow sophomore Connor Bair tipped in a missed shot with :02 to go.

"We knew this season would be one of adjustments and adaptations, with six seniors graduating, including five of our top seven from last year's team," Tauer said. "Despite losing 68 percent of our scoring, 68 percent of our rebounding, and 57 percent of our minutes played, what hasn't changed is our players' focus on continual improvement."

St. Thomas is trying to extend the program's streak of 11 consecutive MIAC championships. It remains in a second-place tie with Hamline at 5-2, one game behind 6-1 Bethel. The Tommies close out the first half of the 20-game conference race over the next nine days -- at home Wednesday against St. Olaf, and Saturday afternoon against Concordia-Moorhead; and Jan. 18 at St. Mary's. 

"We're excited for the stretch run in the MIAC, one of the top leagues in the country that is as balanced and tough as it has ever been," Tauer said. "The quality of teams and coaches in our conference is so impressive, and we are enjoying the journey with this group of players as we strive for excellence."


Did You Know?

Some quick research -- and some help from some fellow conference SIDs -- revealed a few memorable linescores:

  • Augsburg's Parker Hines had a 13-point, 16-assist, seven-rebound game at Concordia in an 82-80 loss two years ago.
  • The Auggies' Jon Cassens had a 20-point, 11-assist game against St. Olaf in December 2007.
  • The MIAC assist record is unclear, but it might be 20, posted by Ronnie Henderson in 1979 at St. Mary's.
  • Four years back, Carleton's Scott Theisen twice recorded triple doubles with 21 or 22 points to go with 10 assists and 10 rebounds.
  • Tommie Women's Basketball's single-game assist record is 14 set 23 years ago by Stacey Dove in a non-conference win over Occidental.
  • Carleton's Brandon Moersch gets the last word -- back in 1999 vs. St. John's, he had 17 assists and no points.

Moersch's showing is known in MIAC hoops lore as the first "Give to the Max Day."


And Finally...

Tauer wasn't the only college basketball coach who rode a emotional roller coaster on Saturday: Nevada's Eric Musselman watched his team complete an epic comeback to win at New Mexico on Saturday night in overtime. The Wolfpack trailed the Lobos by 25 points with 11 minutes left in the game. They were down 17 points with 2:42 to go, and still trailed by nine with 45 seconds left. After forcing overtime, Nevada also fell behind by five points in the extra frame.

And get this: A former Johnny Tauer basketball camper -- St. Paul Johnson grad Marcus Marshall -- was a standout for Nevada with four treys in the last 60 seconds of regulation.

Watch Nevada comeback video here

With connections to those two unusual comebacks, Tauer, a professor in Psychology, is excused if he broke protocol in his academic field and raced out late Saturday to buy a fistful of lottery tickets.


Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is working in his 23rd season at St. Thomas and 29th overall in the MIAC. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) and Division III sports.

If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at [email protected]