Dave Eggen | Inertia Derek Hinen of Saint Francis hangs his head as Indiana Wesleyan players begin to celebrate their NAIA Division II national championship Tuesday night in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Dave Eggen | Inertia Indiana Wesleyan’s Kyle Mangas, a Warsaw graduate, drives past St. Francis’ Derek Hinen during Tuesday’s title game. Mangas scored 23 points.
Wednesday, March 14, 2018 1:00 am
Indiana Wesleyan 84 Saint Francis 71
Cougars come up short
Furious 2nd-half comeback foiled by league rival, Warsaw's Mangus
Tom Savage | For The Journal Gazette
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Defense was the point of order again for Saint Francis in the NAIA Division II national tournament. The effort was there, but this time it just wasn't enough.
A frenzied second-half run fell short as Saint Francis lost 84-71 to Indiana Wesleyan in the national championship game Tuesday at the Sanford Pentagon. It's the fourth time this season Indiana Wesleyan has defeated Saint Francis and the eighth time in a row.
Indiana Wesleyan freshman and Warsaw native Kyle Mangas led the Wildcats with 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Mangas, the Crossroads League's freshman and player of the year, was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
“My teammates told me there's no reason to feel pressure tonight, and I knew they were right,” Mangas said. “I just came out and tried to play my game.”
The Cougars (29-9) trimmed a 17-point second-half deficit to one on five different occasions. The last time they got it that close was with 5:28 to play on a Bryce Lienhoop basket. But they could never get over the hump, and Indiana Wesleyan extended the lead to as many as 13 in the final seconds.
“It's frustrating not getting that stop, but I can't tell you how proud I am of our guys to battle back and not get their heads down,” Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross said. “Those kids put us in a position to win the game. (Indiana Wesleyan) hit some huge shots, and we just couldn't get that one stop.”
For the fourth straight game, Derek Hinen led the Cougars with 24 points, 19 coming in the second half. He also finished with five rebounds and four assists. Lienhoop added 17 points and nine rebounds. Lienhoop and Hinen were named to the all-tournament team.
After Indiana Wesleyan pushed the lead to 17, at 46-29, early in the second half, the Cougars went on an 11-0 run to make it 46-40, the first time Saint Francis had been that close since 21-15 in the first half. The run also included a 1-for-3 effort from the free-throw line from Connor Lautzenheiser – which seemed to sum up the game at that point for the Cougars.
But after a pair of free throws from Indiana Wesleyan, Hinen struck again and hit a long 3-pointer from the wing and followed it up with a nifty move and score in the paint. That cut it to 48-45, and the Cougars had life with 12:40 to play.
“The pressure wasn't as good as it could have been, but we turned that up a notch,” LaCross said. “We at least gave them something to think about, and I think we had them on the ropes a little bit.”
A Stephen Turner basket with just over nine minutes to play cut it to 53-52. The teams exchanged baskets over the next four minutes, but Saint Francis could never grab the lead.
“We knew they were going to make a run in the second half, and we just had to withstand that and play our game,” Mangas said.
Down 82-71 with 12 seconds to play, LaCross emptied the bench and conceded the loss.
The Cougars dug their hole in the first half. They led 15-13 midway through the half before Indiana Wesleyan went on a 23-4 to blow things open.
“Obviously, that's not the position we wanted to be in,” LaCross said of trailing 40-29 at halftime. “I thought we could have done better defensively. We talked about pressure and how we wanted to score the basketball. Like they've done all year, our guys executed where they needed to in the second half.”