HELENA, Mont. - Carroll College, ranked No. 24 in the most recent NAIA Division I national poll, capitalized on a big free throw advantage to sneak past the Whitman College women 58-54 in Thursday night's finale of the Heuiser Physical Therapy Holiday Tournament at Carroll College in Helena, Mont.
The Saints, making 24 of 29 shots from the charity stripe, improved to 13-3 on the season.
Whitman, which was 10 of 11 at the line, slipped to 6-4.
Carroll needed all the help it could get after the Missionaries raced in front 14-2 in the first six minutes of the game. Junior Anna Forge sparked the early defense with the first two of her game-high five blocked shots.
After the Saints closed to within 20-18, junior Jennifer Keyes nailed a pair of 3-pointers and sophomore Emilie Gilbert added a third to give Whitman a 29-20 lead. Carroll answered with the last four points of the half to trail 29-24 at the break.
Whitman led 42-36 with 11 minutes left in the second half, but the Saints reeled off six straight to knot the score. The Missionaries regained the lead when junior Jenele Peterson hit a jumper and first-year center Meghan White scored inside.
After the Saints surged again to take a 48-46 advantage, Peterson drove to the hoop to pull the Missionaries even.
With three minutes left, Carroll was called for its seventh team foul of the half, sending sophomore Kelly Peterson to the line for a one-and-one. She made both for a 50-48 Whitman lead.
On Whitman's next possession, senior center Rebecca Sexton whirled around her defender to put the Missionaries up by four.
The Saints regained the lead on their next two trips down the floor, knocking down a 3-pointer and scoring off an offensive rebound putback. The back-and-forth continued when Jenele Peterson's two free throws put Whitman back in front by a point with a minute left.
Carroll regained the lead for good at 55-54 when it converted another second-chance opportunity.
After taking a time-out with 28 seconds left on the clock, Whitman failed to connect on a 3-point attempt and then misfired on a hurried offensive rebound shot. The Saints gathered the rebound and made three of four free throws in the closing seconds to ice the win.
Keyes paced Whitman's offense with 13 points. Jenele Peterson added 12 points while Forge collected nine rebounds and finished with five blocked shots.
"We played much better tonight," Whitman coach Michelle Ferenz said. "Our effort was much better."
Ferenz also was pleased with the way her squad responded to a "very physical" Carroll defense that drew relatively few whistles.
The Missionaries resume Northwest Conference action next week when they host Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran Jan. 7-8.