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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, February 22, 2017 7:03 pm

Saint Francis wins Crossroads tournament opener

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

Postseason basketball, Saint Francis knows, requires poise, toughness and rising to the moment.

The Cougars learned those lessons en route to winning last year's Crossroads League tournament, and they applied them again in this year's tournament opener, beating Mount Vernon Nazarene 68-56 Wednesday night at the Hutzell Athletic Center.

"We didn't want to have a letdown," said senior wing Kegan Comer, who had a game-high 18 points and five assists. "Coach (Chad LaCross) told us to keep playing with that chip on our shoulder and keep playing with our backs against the wall."

The third-seeded Cougars had a tougher time with No. 6 seed MVNU, also the Cougars, than the final score would indicate.

Each side shot 46 percent, each side committed 14 turnovers, and neither led by more than eight until the final minutes.

"Any time you get in the postseason, you know it's going to be a grind," LaCross said. "We just continued to grind it out and finally made a late run there. We kept our composure."

It was only a four-point game with under 4 minutes left when officials whistled MVNU's Todd Entenmann for a pivotal offensive foul. On the other end, Kyle Sovine (10 points, eight rebounds) made a nifty pass out of a double team, and Comer swung the ball once more to Evan Henry, who connected on a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the hosts a 61-54 edge with 3:05 to play. Less than a minute later, Sovine scored underneath for a nine-point bulge, and Saint Francis never allowed for any tense moments thereafter.

The Cougars (22-9) move on to play at No. 2 seed Indiana Wesleyan on Saturday.

"We got some guys that understand how we're supposed to get back to the national tournament," Comer said. "We're just trying to use our leadership and maturity to get that done."

After leading 34-28 at halftime, Saint Francis came out of the locker room strong and matched its largest lead to that point at 42-34, but an ensuing lull saw MVNU close within a point thanks to an 11-4 run that climaxed on a 3 by Deontae Cole (12 points).

After a relentlessly close beginning, Saint Francis finally gained separation in the final four minutes of the first half. The visitors had pulled within 27-26 on a 3-pointer by Entenmann with 4:04 showing, and from there Saint Francis closed on a 7-2 run, holding MVNU scoreless on six straight possessions with four ending as turnovers.

"We talk about getting consecutive stops," LaCross said. "Getting stop after stop builds confidence."

Notes: Josh Ashwill (foot) and Trey McBride (hand) did not play. Combined, the MVNU guards average 26 points per game. ... It was the first postseason meeting between the schools since MVNU joined the league in 2011. ... Connor Lautzenheiser had 14 points for Saint Francis. Bryce Lienhoop added nine points and five assists.