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The Journal Gazette

  • Dave Eggen/Inertia Saint Francis' Chandler White dribbles past Keiser's Andrija Sarenac on Wednesday during their first-round game of the NAIA Division II national tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D.

  • SIOUX FALLS, SD - MARCH 7: Bryce Lienhoop #23 from Saint Francis backs down Deion McClenton #13 from Keiser at the 2018 NAIA DII Men's Basketball Championship at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls. (Photo by Dick Carlson/Inertia)

Thursday, March 08, 2018 1:00 am

Saint Francis 83 Keiser 73

Cougars pass tough test in 1st round of tournament

Tom Savage | For The Journal Gazette

Saint Francis

Who: No. 2 Saint Francis vs. No. 3 Northwestern (Iowa)

When: 1 p.m. Friday

What: NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship

Where: Sanford Pentagon, Sioux Falls, S.D.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Saint Francis nearly let one slip away in the opening round of the NAIA Division II men's basketball tournament.

The Cougars let a nine-point first half lead get away early in the second half, then went back and forth with Keiser University (Florida), before escaping with an 83-73 victory.

Saint Francis' Derek Hinen scored a game-high 30 points, just two shy of his career high.

No doubt Keiser focused on All-American Bryce Lienhoop in the middle, and Hinen took advantage.

“We're still going to throw it into Bryce. He's an All-American for a reason,” Hinen said. “That was never a doubt. We were going to get it to him whenever he was open. They probably keyed on Bryce a little more, so it may have opened the lane a little bit. I just took what I could get.”

Lienhoop still finished with 18 points and five rebounds. Chandler White finished with 21 points and a game-high eight rebounds.

They were outmatched, outshot and beaten in nearly every statistical category in the opening half, but somehow the Cougars (26-8) led 40-36 at the break thanks in large part to Hinen's impressive first 20 minutes. Lienhoop had just six points at the break.

The Keiser front line featured three players 6-foot-10 and taller. Keiser's Deion McClenton was his team's highlight reel with some thunderous dunks. But Lienhoop and Stephen Turner did a nice job of at least slowing him down.

McClenton finished with 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting.

“I thought our intensity was there all night defensively,” Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross said. “We knew (McClenton) was going to get his, but our guys just battled. We knew he'd score in the 20s probably, but we thought if he worked for every single thing, we'd wear him down.”

Wear him down they did.

After Keiser (20-11) regained the lead in the second half, McClenton went quiet. His last basket came at the 3:48 mark to cut the Saint Francis lead to 69-68. He never scored again, and Saint Francis finished the game on a 15-5 run.

Meanwhile, Lienhoop scored twice during the final run.

“We knew going in they were big, but we've been the smaller team all season,” LaCross said. “But Bryce plays bigger than he is. He went right to work, and we told him that if they're not going to double you, make them pay.”

The second half featured four lead changes and four ties before Saint Francis pulled away.

The Cougars will face Northwestern (Iowa) at 1 p.m. Friday.