HELENA — Talk to Carroll men’s basketball coach Kurt Paulson about freshman Guilherme Pedra and one of the first words out of his mouth will be ‘gamer.’
“In the games, he really rises to the occasion,” Paulson said. “He wants to make those plays. He’s got a quiet confidence about him, he’s not a real vocal guy. Just being an international student, this is a big jump for him. He really came from a great high school program, so he’s ready for these situations.”
As a freshman, Pedra is being called upon to do things players of his experience level typically are not at this stage.
Against Montana State-Northern, Pedra found himself under the basket and made what would ultimately be the game-winning field goal with less than two seconds left on the clock.
That go-ahead bucket started a run for eight wins of their last 10 games, including six-straight. Pedra’s latest big-time shot, however, helped keep that winning streak alive against Rocky Mountain College on Sunday.
With less than 30 seconds left in the overtime period, Pedra knocked down a 3-pointer, giving the Saints a decisive four-point edge in a 72-67 victory.
“At the moment I was very happy, very pumped,” Pedra said. “Those are big shots but at the same time, I’m a guy that’s very calm and composed. So, especially after the Rocky shot, I got very pumped in the moment, but we had to go back to defense and get another stop to seal the win.”
Pedra’s success is beginning to shine through because of his comfort level with his team. Originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil, Pedra spent his high school days at Cathedral High School in California before joining the Saints.
He earned his first career start against Dickinson State in mid-December, put up 18 points and seven rebounds on a perfect 7-for-7 effort from the field, and has remained a mainstay in Paulson’s lineup ever since.
“It’s a big opportunity, I’m loving it,” Pedra said. “I feel like there’s lots of room to improve and get better everyday. That’s what I try to do, just keep getting better. I know I can offer even more to the team, so everyday my mindset is just to keep getting better and keep contributing to the team’s success.”
Through 16 games, Pedra has earned 12 starts and is averaging 7.6 points per game in nearly 26 minutes of action. His 51.6 percent effort shooting the ball is one of the best on the team while he remains a threat to knock down a 3-point at a 42.9 percent clip. In the last four games, Pedra has dished out eight assists, pulled down 17 rebounds and averaged better than 7.7 points per game.
“As time went on and I got to really know the guys and really started playing with them, I just got more comfortable, they made me feel good when we were playing,” Pedra said. “When we hang out, we have a good time off the court, too. All that chemistry just leads up to me having more confidence and feeling looser on the court.”
Being on a roster that features four international students, two of which are freshmen, Pedra’s attitude toward hard work and getting himself ready for the bigger moments in games is contagious.
Fellow freshman Murat Guzelocak, who is from Turkey, quickly formed a tight bond with Pedra and knows firsthand the kind of motivation he can provide with his hard work, both on and off the basketball court.
“He likes to work hard and he motivates me a lot with his hard work,” Guzelocak said. “He always finds energy to stay ready for games. He is also motivating me to study hard for classes because he has like a 3.5 GPA. Right now, he’s the guide I am following because he’s getting minutes right now as a freshman.”
Guzelocak is starting to carve out his own playing time following Pedra’s lead. He has scored in each of the last four games and played a career-high 12 minutes on Saturday against Rocky Mountain.
Pedra attributes his success in big moments to a version of the phrase “be ready so you don’t have to get ready,” something that has helped him adapt to the more physical and high-tempo nature of collegiate basketball.
“He’s cold-blooded, I can definitely say that…He’s always ready,” Guzelocak said. “He’s always thinking that he can get his chance to hit a 3-point shot at the end of the game.”
With the Saints rolling, thanks, in part, to Pedra’s clutch buckets, they have gone from a middle of the pack team in the Frontier to now just a couple of games behind Providence for first place.
The team that Pedra helped defeat with his go-ahead shot back in January, however, is slated to visit the PE Center this weekend for back-to-back games.
Northern is fresh off splitting games with Providence in Great Falls and possesses two of the top-five scorers in the Frontier in seniors David Harris and Mascio McCadney. Both are averaging north of 17 points per game and scored 26 apiece against the Argonauts on Saturday.
“They’ve got two all-conference-type guys in Harris and McCadney,” Paulson said. “They’re a load, so it starts with those two. Then they’ve got some nice pieces, Jomel Boyd, and some shooters. They’ll be a different team than when we played them up there. They were just getting to know each other at that point…They’re finally starting to play off each other.”
The Saints, too, are not the same team that beat Northern twice on the road earlier this season. With its starting lineup solidified, Carroll has vaulted up the statistical leaderboards and now stands second in the NAIA in both 3-point field goal percentage and total rebound defense.
Over its last 10 games, Carroll is shooting nearly 47 percent from 3-point range and is averaging 74.7 points per game. During the current six-game winning streak, however, those numbers shoot up to 53.2 percent and 77.8 points.
“We’re playing more together, we’re moving the ball more, we’re making unselfish plays,” Pedra said. “On defense we’re covering for each other. It’s really just that feeling of playing off each other, playing hard and giving all you got every game.”
Carroll will look to continue their recent play this weekend against Northern. Tip off between the Saints and Lights is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday inside the PE Center.