FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Fortunately, this hard-to-swallow 62-61 loss to Bethel College wasn’t the end of the University of Saint Francis season. Just the end of the eighth-ranked Cougars bid for the 2015 Crossroads League Tournament title.
USF (25-7) had ample opportunity to advance to the CL Tournament championship game, but the Cougars couldn’t get that one more elusive basket to hit the mark on Saturday afternoon before more than 1,100 fans in the final USF basketball game in the 25th season for Hutzell Athletic Center. Now USF will wait for word from NAIA regarding who and when the Cougars will play when the NAIA Division II Championship starts on March 11. The Cougars will find that out late Wed., March 4.
“The guys are really disappointed that we couldn’t finish off one of those opportunities in the final seconds, but we played hard and put ourselves in a position to win after it looked like we were on the brink of (Bethel) really taking control,” USF Head Coach Chad LaCross said.
The Pilots (27-5) took an eight point lead 51-43 on a Clay Yeo 3-pointer at the 10:09 point in the second half. BC outscored USF 25-15 in the first 10 minutes of the half. Travis Smith hit two free throws at 8:36 stretching the BC lead to nine, 53-44, but the Cougars, who has won its last seven games, clawed back with a 15-5 run that tied the game at 58. Austin Fox was fouled and hit the one-and-bonus free throw opportunity at 3:16 putting the Cougars ahead 59-58.
“We really did a good job of making stops and making plays on the offensive end during that stretch,” LaCross observed.
Gage Ott muscled in a bucket putting BC back in front, 60-59, with 2:28 to play. Kegan Comer was fouled coralling a defensive rebound, but he missed the front end of the bonus chance at the 1:25 mark. He rebounded his miss and Fox put USF in front for the last time, 61-60, with 58 seconds to play. After a timeout, Yeo buried a step-back rainbow near the top of the key with 37 seconds to play.
Fox missed a seven-footer in the lane, BC got the possession on the missed shot that went out of bounds off a USF player, but BC stepped on the baseline passing the ball in against USF full-court pressure. Comer got off a runner in the lane with a lot of contact, but missed and Jordan Hahn snared the ball and got off a desperation heave that was short of a USF miracle as time ran out.
“I wish I could have made one more,” Hahn said. He did knock down a 3-pointer at 3:52 that got the Cougars within a point at 58-57.
Fox led USF scoring with 19 points, 15 in the second half. Kegan Comer added 10 points while Bryce Lienhoop finished a point short of a double double with nine points and 11 rebounds. The glaring shortcoming was 3-point shooting for USF — 4-for-21 — a .190 shooting percentage. USF entered the game as the No. 1 team in 3-point shooting percentage in NAIA at .423. It was the second poorest perimeter game for USF only to .182 (2 for 11) in a 62-59 loss at Marian on Jan. 17.
USF hit 1-of-10 3-pointers in the first half, 3-of-11 in the second half. The Pilots were 9-for-28 from the arc, .321
Yeo led all scorers with 20 points. Matt Schauss, the 2015 CL Player of the Year, scored 10, but exited with a knee injury at the 18:34 mark in the second half. His replacement, Caleb Oetjen, scored 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting. His season average is 3.4 points per game. He had scored more than five points in any of BC’s last 14 games.