MANCHESTER — Replacing Tim Guers was never going to be easy. Of course, finding someone to approximate the production of the best player in program history usually isn’t.
Keith Dickson understood that coming into the 2019-20 season, but his Saint Anselm College men’s basketball team has survived thus far, coming out of the gates strong with a 5-1 record.
The Hawks’ most recent win was a 104-93 overtime thriller over Southern New Hampshire University on Tuesday at Stan Spirou Field House that put them in a situation where they needed to figure out who was going to take charge in clutch moments. On this night, it was Chris Paul and Tyler Arbuckle, which forced SNHU to pick its poison down the stretch.
“I really don’t think you replace Tim Guers,” Dickson said. “He’s the best player we’ve ever had for a reason. I thought we would struggle early in the season, which we are, trying to find who was going to make the plays at the biggest time. That’s what we’re trying to work out. Against (Franklin) Pierce the other night it was multiple guys and I thought tonight it was multiple guys, although it was Chris and Ty that made most of them in overtime. I think that’s the way it’ll go.”
What the Hawks might be realizing is that they don’t have to find a singular player to make up for Guers graduating this past spring. Instead, perhaps they might find a committee approach works where they have some strong options but simply ride the hot hand on a given night.
Late in the second half that was Arbuckle. Among the number of big shots he made, his game-tying three with 13 seconds left in regulation was the biggest. Six seconds earlier SNHU’s Michael Almoncy made a deep 3-pointer from the right wing and was fouled in the act of shooting. The ensuing free throw put the Penmen up 83-80, making Arbuckle’s shot necessary.
Arbuckle finished with 24 points for Saint Anselm, five off of Paul’s game-high 29. Paul was remarkable throughout the game and was the key to sealing the victory in overtime. His first-step quickness and athletic ability aid him in getting to the rim almost at will and, with not much of an answer defensively, SNHU fouled him 14 times. Paul made 19 (of 23) free throws, the second-most in a game Saint Anselm history and the most in a road game.
“Eamonn Joyce got hurt, so he couldn’t play, which meant we had to put somebody else on (Paul),” SNHU coach Jack Perri said. “It was a difficult matchup for Justyn (Lacy) and Ryogo (Sumino). He’s a talented kid. We needed to help and crowd him more. We talked about that being one of the keys is taking away his free throws and second chance points. We did neither.”
The Hawks also got 21 points out of Danny Evans, who made five of his 10 threes, and 16 points out of Gustav Suhr-Jessen. Alonzo Jackson added seven.
The Penmen got a bit of a surprise performance from Jacari Sanders as the freshman guard poured in 27 points on 12-of-19 shooting from the field. Like Paul, Sanders has a lightning-quick first step and has the ability to finish through contact at the rim despite weighing 160 pounds.
The loss dropped SNHU to 4-2, but the Penmen have some nice pieces in place. Senior forward Shawn Montague finished with 21 points and six rebounds, while Almoncy had 16 points.
Still, it’s Saint Anselm that was predicted to win its side of the Northeast-10 Conference. The Hawks entered Tuesday’s game ranked No. 14 in the country in Division II and are looking to recapture some of the momentum they rode to the NCAA Tournament semifinals last year.