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Thank you for checking out Basketball Across Minnesota, my weekly look at some of the state's top hoops stories, from preps to pros. — Marcus Fuller

Carleton athletic director Gerald Young knew replacing a coaching legend with his men's basketball hire last spring would not be an easy choice.

Guy Kalland retired last March after 38 seasons and 506 victories with the Division III program in Northfield. His replacement obviously had enormous shoes to fill.

Nobody knew the Knights better than Ryan Kershaw, who was Kalland's assistant for nearly a decade. The job, though, asked for someone who had a new vision for what could take Carleton to another level.

"One of the things that the players were looking for in a new coach was someone who could be different," Young said. "They wanted to have a little more freedom to play with a faster pace. That's the biggest difference is the pace and the style we play."

In Kershaw's first season, Carleton's offense has become one of the 10 most efficient in D-III nationally. That combined with the team's experience put the Knights on a historic pace for success.

Saturday's game at rival Macalester will be a matchup of 1-vs.-2 in the MIAC standings. Carleton (19-3) needs only three wins for the most in the program's 114-year history. The first outright MIAC title in exactly 100 years is within reach, although that includes a stretch from 1925 until 1983 when the Knights were in the Midwest Conference. Their last outright title in either conference was in 1965-66.

"I'm very lucky in my first year as head coach to have as talented and experienced team as we have," Kershaw said. "The continuity helps. The players' familiarity with me and my familiarity with them. But above all when we're talking about success on the basketball floor, having the talent, having the experience, with great depth and great leadership, those are the key characteristics."

An MIAC lifer, Kershaw has been in the conference for more than two decades. He played at St. Olaf (2004 graduate) and was an assistant at St. Olaf (2005-07), Augsburg (2007-13) and Carleton (2013-2021).

The most successful Carleton team in the modern era went 21-7 led by the 1-2 punch of Minnesota natives Dan Forkrud and Zach Johnson in 2005-06. Johnson became the program's all-time leading scorer with 2,029 points.

In recent years, the Knights went 18-9 in 2016-17 behind Kevin Grow and Freddie Gillespie, who eventually transferred to play at Baylor before making it to the NBA with the Toronto Raptors.

Out of all the top teams in program history, this year's Carleton squad could finish above the rest, but not without experience from 12 upperclassmen, including five seniors.

Several current Knights were motivated to prove themselves after their entire 2020-21 season was canceled during the start of the pandemic. They won 16 games last season in Kalland's final year.

But Kershaw's offense elevated Carleton, especially senior Jeremy Beckler and sophomore Luke Harris, who combined for 55 points in Wednesday's victory against St. John's. The win clinched the Knights' first share of the MIAC title since 2010-11, when they split it with St. Thomas.

Beckler, a 6-8 former White Bear Lake star, ranks second in the MIAC with 21.8 points per game, highlighted recently with 35 points vs. Bethel and 31 vs. St. John's in consecutive games.

"Our offense is a lot more free-flowing than it had been," said Beckler, who shoots 38% from three-point range. "With the players we have this year, it works perfectly with the faster pace we play. We have a lot of great decisionmakers and scorers. It's easy to thrive in it."

With a job already lined up in computer science, Beckler hopes his final year playing basketball can end with more records and Carleton putting itself on the D-III hoops map.

"It's never easy going through a coaching transition," Beckler said. "It's really important for us to keep going, so we can break our win record at Carleton — and just ensure that we're going somewhere nationally."

Fuller's Five ballers

C.J. O'Hara, Park Center

The 6-4 senior scored 41 points in last week's victory against Blaine. The leading scorer for the No. 1 ranked Class 4A team in the state also eclipsed 1,500 career points.

Park Center’s C.J. O’Hara
Park Center’s C.J. O’Hara

Provided photo

Curtis Jones, Buffalo

The former Cretin-Derham Hall guard had his second 30-point game this season with 32 points on 5-for-11 shooting from three in win vs. Western Michigan on Saturday.

Liza Karlen, Marquette

The former Stillwater standout had a team-high 10 rebounds and four assists to go along with four steals in Marquette's upset against No. 4 UConn on Wednesday night.

Stillwater native Liza Karlen, top, helped lead Marquette over UConn on Wednesday.
Stillwater native Liza Karlen, top, helped lead Marquette over UConn on Wednesday.

Jessica Hill, Associated Press

Patrick Rowe, Chisago Lakes

The 6-6 junior and Gophers target capped his 43-point performance Tuesday night with a full-court, buzzer-beating game-winner in Chisago Lakes' 90-89 win against Becker at home.

Andy Stefonowicz, Minnetonka

The junior guard scored 35 points in a fourth straight win last week vs. the state's No. 3 Class 4A team, Eastview. Followed it up with 27 points over the weekend against Buffalo.

Statistically speaking

2 — Ranking for the Indiana women's team after wins vs. the Gophers and Purdue, which included Ex-Gopher Sara Scalia scoring in double figures twice.

1.6 — Seconds remaining when Pequot Lakes' Eli Laposky nailed a buzzer beater from just past halfcourt in the 66-63 win vs. Esko on Tuesday night.

0.7 — Seconds remaining Wednesday, when Macalester's Caleb Williams hit a three to force overtime in the win vs. St. Olaf. That same night, Macalester's Katherine Norquist hit a 15-footer in an OT win vs. the Oles women.

1,018 — Total career points allowed by the Timberwolves to new NBA all-time scoring leader LeBron James through Tuesday.

Basketball Across Minnesota will be published weekly on Don't be a stranger on Twitter after reading, as chatting about these stories makes them even more fun to share. Thanks, Marcus (@Marcus_R_Fuller on Twitter)