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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, February 07, 2017 7:03 pm

Rotation changes turn things around for Saint Francis

Greg Jones | The Journal Gazette

A men's college basketball season is much too long to keep the status quo through the duration. With some past struggles (such as losing 5 of 6 games) and the departure of freshman Vijay Blackmon from the team, Saint Francis has recently been tinkering with its lineup.

The Cougars feel they have found the rotation they need for the stretch run, bringing Bryce Lienhoop off the bench for a third straight game, and producing a third straight win, 87-72 at home against Huntington on Tuesday.

Saint Francis, which moved up one spot in the latest NAIA Division II poll to No. 19, improved to 19-8 and is all alone in third place in the Crossroads League at 9-6. 

Cougars coach Chad LaCross felt starting the 6-foot-6 Lienhoop and 6-9 Kyle Sovine together created a defensive liability defending the 3-pointers and also clogged the inside up for guards to penetrate effectively. Saint Francis is No. 2 in the Crossroads in defensive shooting (43 percent), but No. 6 in 3-point defense (35 percent).

Lienhoop sat on the bench for only the first two minutes and scored a game-high 19 points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.

"He still plays as many minutes, if not more," LaCross said of Lienhoop. "The biggest thing is our rotations are better when we can sub in Bryce for Kyle. We made some adjustments ... the biggest thing is we are moving the ball well right now, and we are getting good looks. Defensively, we are getting better. We want to continue to get better. We have three games left and none (bigger) than Saturday at (No. 9) Indiana Wesleyan."

The new rotation also has created more opportunities for more traditional role players to earn more minutes. Connor Lautzenheiser started the last three games and scored 15 points against the Foresters (15-12, 6-9). 

"I knew I had to come in there and just do my role, play defense but I knocked down shots today," Lautzenheiser said. "I have been working hard all season ... and just do what I can for the team. I have a specific role, and I am just trying to play that role the best that I can.

"We are playing as a team, going inside-out. We don't care who shoots. We just play as a team and get stops together. We know that whoever is going to go in there is going to produce for our team just as the other one that came out. You might as well keep shuffling things around."

Kegan Comer was also in double figures with 13 points, while Chandler White and Evan Henry each had nine.

Saint Francis got key contributions from Perry Poindexter (10 points) and Stephen Turner (eight points) off the bench. Turner didn't play the last game and played limited minutes two games ago. With Lienhoop, Poindexter and Turner, the Cougars outscored the Foresters' bench, 37-15.

"You don't know when your number is called, but you have to be ready," LaCross said. "Those guys were ready tonight. That was good to see. For (Turner) to play that many minutes and play with some confidence, that was big."

Daniel Woll and Mike Bush led Huntington with 16 points each. Trevor Lockwood added 12 and Mason Coverstone 10.