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The Journal Gazette

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Saint Francis' Stephen Turner puts up a shot in front of Huntington's Tyler Arens on Tuesday night at the Hutzell Athletic Center.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 1:00 am

Saint Francis 81 Huntington 71

Cougars want to have fun

Second-half enthusiasm helps extend win streak to 16

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Thirty points for both teams, the Hutzell Athletic Center scoreboard read, revealing nothing after half a game Tuesday.

Even less remarkable were the expressions on the faces of the Saint Francis men's basketball players. They lacked the enthusiasm one would expect from a team ranked second in the nation and threatening to win more consecutive games than any other team in program history.

But that changed rapidly.

From Cougars coach Chad LaCross telling his players at halftime, “Man, just play our basketball, have fun, get movement, get stops defensively,” to senior Derek Hinen hitting one big shot after another and junior Chandler White showing grit in the paint, the smiles returned to the Cougars and they returned to form with an 81-71 victory over the Huntington Foresters.

“For sure, the first half, we just weren't playing our basketball and we weren't moving. A lot of that is probably on me,” said Hinen, who had a team-high 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting. “We just weren't having fun like we usually do. In the second half, we played aggressively and played like we normally do.

“Winning is fun. When we're playing well and we're playing our basketball, that's when we're having fun. We know we can compete with anybody when we play like that.”

The Cougars (17-2, 7-0 Crossroads League) have won 16 consecutive games, tied for the second-longest run in team history, something last seen in 2015-16. The team record of 20 straight was set in 1999-2000.

But enthusiasm is essential for these Cougars, and they were reminded of it by the Foresters (6-13, 2-5), who recovered from an early 17-6 deficit and led 28-25 when a Trevor Lockwood put-back basket was followed by a Konner Platt shot from the top of the key. Saint Francis had trouble dealing with the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Lockwood, until he got into foul trouble, and speedy Foresters guard Mike Bush, who made 10 of 16 shots for 23 points. Tyler Arens added 17 points.

“I thought the first half was ugly on our part, real sloppy,” LaCross said, noting the Cougars' 10 first-half turnovers, compared with only two in the second half. “It seems like that's the trend in our games – we'll grind it out, grind it out, and then find a way to win it in the last five minutes.”

The Cougars began to take control when Hinen was shouldered to the floor by Lockwood but still able to send the ball off the glass and in, and make the free throw, for a 49-42 lead with 12:19 left.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Hinen and Austin Compton put Saint Francis up 57-51. And by the time Evan Henry intercepted a pass and went the length of the court for a 75-65 lead, it was clear the Cougars were having too much fun to be overtaken again.

“Having fun is playing the way we do. Having fun is great ball pressure, getting back defensively and doing things well, sharing the basketball,” said LaCross, who commended the moxie of Bryce Lienhoop (21 points, 17 coming with four fouls), Connor Lautzenheiser (14 points) and White (8 points, 7 rebounds).

“You win them pretty sometimes, like the last two games we'd had, and then you win them ugly. But as long as you find a way to win them, that's what's important.”

Enthusiasm matters, it seems, too.

“We know we're hot. We know we're on a winning streak. But each game is important,” Hinen said. “We know we have to come out and compete. As we found out in that first half. If we don't compete right away, then we're losing.”