The Tommies opened the season at the University of California on Nov. 6, and the one player they pulled from the transfer portal, former Division III player Raheem Anthony, took one shot and didn’t score as a member of the starting lineup.
First impressions proved to be inconsequential.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Anthony, who played the past four seasons at Division III St. Mary’s in Winona, continues to show he belongs on the Division I level. In his latest effort, he had 23 points in the Tommies’ 75-71 win over the Milwaukee Panthers on Wednesday at Schoenecker Arena.
Just as significant as the points were Anthony’s hustle, physical play and rebounding, the things he did at St. Mary’s and has continued to do for the Tommies since the season opener.
“That was a good learning moment for me,” Anthony said of the game at Cal. “I kind of had the jitters a little bit. I remembered about a year ago being in St. Paul playing against Hamline. Then to be on the Pac-12 logo, it was different.”
Anthony has started all nine games for the Tommies (5-4) this season and came into Wednesday’s game averaging 11.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Tommies coach Johnny Tauer was confident Anthony would be able to make the jump to Division I and still be a dynamic player.
“He was a first-team All-American at St. Mary’s and he did just about everything,” Tauer said. “He had the ball in his hands a lot. This year is a different game for him — using screens, setting screens. He’s seizing the opportunity to play Division I basketball, and I think his ceiling is really high because he is continuing to get accustomed to playing with our guys.”
Anthony said he entered the portal in search of a new challenge.
“I knew I wanted to leave after four years,” he said. “I did what I had to do at St. Mary’s. Blessed to have another year of basketball to play. I entered the portal with a lot of schools interested, and I’m glad I chose the Tommies.”
Tauer said his relationships with Anthony’s various coaches from high school to AAU to college helped lead Anthony to the Tommies.
“We’ve seen really good Division III players make this jump,” Tauer said of his own program the past three seasons, “and he continues to get better and better. Over nine games he’s improved a lot, and after 31 games I think I’m going to be able to continue to say that.”
The Tommies, who were up 38-22 at halftime, saw their lead shrink to four points with a minute and a half to play before holding on for the victory.
The Panthers (3-6, 0-1 Horizon League), who were picked to finish second this season in the Horizon League preseason poll, shot 29.2 percent in the first half (7 of 24), when they trailed by as many as 20 points. They shot 52.9 percent in the second half, including 7 of 13 from 3-point range.
“The second half we were as not clean (defensively), but give them credit,” Tauer said. “Milwaukee hit an abundance of 3s; they got to the basket. It was kind of tale of two halves.
“We had to dig deep down and make big plays a both ends of the floor in the last two minutes. That’s the mark of a good team, a veteran team.”
One that has already come to rely on Anthony.
“He had four offensive rebounds tonight,” Tauer said, “and just the basketball awareness — tipping balls, gaining possessions for us. He drew 10 fouls tonight. While everyone is going to look at the 23 points — and that was big — he plays with competitive joy.
“He plays that way every day in practice. I think he’s grateful for this opportunity, and I think he’s getting more and more comfortable — not just in our system, but as a leader.”
Women’s basketball: Iowa State hands St. Thomas 85-44 loss at Schoenecker Arena
Men’s hockey: Rocky first period dooms Tommies in 3-1 loss to Lake Superior State