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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, January 14, 2017 5:32 pm

Indiana Wesleyan outlasts Saint Francis men

MARK SCHUTTE | For The Journal Gazette

With the frequency and intensity that is growing in the rivalry between Saint Francis and Indiana Wesleyan it should come as no surprise that it would take extra time before a winner was determined.

The No. 3 Cougars and No. 10 Wildcats – who last met in the NAIA national championship game last March – got together for the first time this season on Saturday at the Hutzell Center and went to double overtime before Wesleyan walked out with an 85-81 victory.

Saint Francis (15-5 overall, 5-3 Crossroads League) was looking for a little revenge, having waited 10 months to face Wesleyan, which won the national championship with a 69-66 victory over the Cougars, after Saint Francis had won the three previous meetings last season.

And for the first half, the Cougars threw every punch, opening up a 45-28 lead at the intermission after shooting 55 percent, making seven 3-pointers, while holding the Wildcats to 32 percent from the field and 2-of-13 from three-point range.

Wesleyan coach Greg Tonagal, whose team entered having lost three of its last four, was as stunned as anyone in the place and admitted he didn’t know what to say at the half.

“I probably said the least I’ve ever said at halftime because I was as perplexed as they were,” he said. “I just tried to pass the onus to them, ‘if you want to compete, then let’s go out and compete. If not, let’s just hand them the victory.’

“We walked out of there and they must have said something because they didn’t quit. It would have been easy to quit at that point. I felt bad for Saint Francis up to that point because we hadn’t even made it a game.”

But then it was the Cougars’ turn to struggle. Saint Francis did not hit a shot the first 12 minutes of the second half and made just 3 of 22 during the 20 minutes.

“It’s a thing where you try to just keep your foot on the pedal and keep pressing,” coach Chad LaCross said. “I thought we did a really nice job for a long stretch in the first half of getting stuff in transition … I just felt like we came out (in the second half) a little passive and almost hoping something would happen instead of making something happen. But there for a long time, we tried to battle, tried to get it back.”

The Cougars, who saw their 21-game home winning streak end, trailed 66-62, but got two free throws apiece from Bryce Lienhoop and Chandler White in the final 34 seconds to tie it and sent the game into overtime.

The teams traded blows in the first extra session, and Saint Francis was up 73-70 with 35 seconds left after two more free throws from White, who led the Cougars with 22 points. But Wesleyan’s Grant Evans tied it with a three-pointer with 24 seconds to go. On Saint Francis’ possession, Evan Henry found an open look from three that rolled out.

There was still more drama before Wesleyan (16-4, 6-2) finally got to celebrate. The Wildcats went up 81-75 with 2:20 to play, but White completed a 3-point play and Connor Umphress followed with a 3 from the corner to tie it at 81 with 1:30 to play.

As they had done the entire second half, the Wildcats looked to leading scorer Lane Mahurin, who put them up for good with a basket with 1:14 to play. Mahurin finished with 32, 24 after halftime.

The Cougars’ had two chances to tie, but Umphress was called for charging with 50 seconds to go, and Lienhoop missed a reverse layup attempt with 16 seconds left. Wesleyan’s Saikou Jallow grabbed the rebound and later added two free throws to finish the scoring.