FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- Playing as if a light switch had been flipped on, the University of Saint Francis used balanced scoring, determined defense and 55 percent shooting to shock NAIA Top 25 member Grace College 74-69 in Crossroads League action on Saturday afternoon.
More than 1,000 fans got their money's worth, especially USF fans who watched junior Scott Kohne lead USF scoring with 19 points and Brad Sneary produce his third double double of the season -- 15 points and a career-best tying 15 rebounds -- to help the Cougars to their third win against an NAIA Top 25 team in four chances. Josh Hogan chipped in with 14 points in his third collegiate start and Ethan Hussey added 13 for USF, which improved to 13-7 overall, 5-3 in CL action. USF climbed into a three-way tie for third in the league with 12th-ranked Grace and 30th-ranked Taylor.
Sixth-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University, USF's next opponent on Tuesday night at 5 p.m. in Marion, Ind., climbed into a tie for first with Bethel College after winning at BC 81-65. It was BC's first loss after seven consecutive win in CL play.
After trailing 38-37 at halftime, the Cougars outscored the Lancers (13-6) 37-31 in the second half and limited GC to .387 shooting in the final 20 minutes. GC was 12-for-31 shooting in the second half. GC's leading scorer, Bruce Grimm Jr., only scored seven of his 21 points in the second half. GC's Greg Miller, who came into game averaging 17.3 point per game, scored 11 as the Lancers lost their second consecutive game.
"We're learning and we're getting better at closing out games," Sneary said after USF went 6-for-6 in the final 1:04 despite three turnovers that kept hope alive for the Lancers. "What was most important was how we played defense after those mistakes."
Sneary's defense was crucial in forcing a tough shot that Dennis Williams missed deep in the paint that Sneary corralled with 1:10 to play. Kohne scored on the ensuing USF possession extending the Cougars' lead to 68-64 with 1:26 to play in the game. After a Grimm 3-pointer missed, Hogan was fouled and calmly dropped in both extending USF's lead to 70-64 with 1:04 to play. GC missed two shots on its next possession and Hogan finally secured the rebound and was fouled. He connected on both with 47 seconds left opening up a 72-64 lead.
Grimm missed another 3-pointer, but Niko Read grabbed the rebound for GC and Elliot Smith shot the Lancers right back into comeback mode with a 3-pointer with 25 seconds to play, 72-67. Hussey inbounds pass was too long to control, but Grimm missed a jumper just inside the arc and Hussey tracked down the rebound and was fouled. He hit both free throws with 13 seconds to play for a 74-67 lead. Grimm missed a 3-pointer, and Brandon Vanderhegghen scored from the paint to finish the scoring. The two teams traded turnovers in the time left.
Sneary rattled off the names of every USF player who saw action in the Cougars' win as deserving of recognition in the upset.
"What was important was that we were workin' as a team," Sneary added. "We definitely had to win today."
"We had to have a sense of urgency," fellow senior Kevin Bloom added. "We've lost some tough games, but getting this win is a huge confidence builder and hopefully we can take this momentum into our game with (IWU). We felt when we could get a stop when we needed it."
USF did it with two halves of 50-plus percent shooting -- .560 in the first 20 minutes (14 for 25) and .545 in the final 20 minutes (12 for 22). The Cougars shot .385 from 3-point range (5 for 13), enough to keep the Lancers' defense honest.
"Our seniors stepped up and played like seniors today and that's what you've got to have in this league to be successful," USF Head Coach Chad LaCross said. "Brad and Ethan played the way we need them to play through the rest of the season. We executed well on offense most of the game. We handled their run and made a run of our own. We executed well gettin' the ball inside, we took good 3s and finally knocked some down."
Kohne gave USF the lead for good less than two minutes into the second half when he connected on a running one-handed J in the lane at 18:47. The Cougars led 39-38 and after trading baskets, USF went on an 11-0 run that vaulted the Cougars into a 52-40 lead with 14:16 to play. Hogan and Bloom buried back-to-back 3-pointers and Kohne capped the surge with a bucket extending the lead to 12.
The Lancers gradually whittled the USF lead a point, 64-63 on a Vanderhegghen put back with 3:20 to play, but Hussey's basket in traffic at 3:05 put USF back in control.
"Today, we were playin' with the lead tryin' to finish, where in our three losses we were fighting from behind most of the time," Kohne said. "Luckily, when they were shootin' those 3s at the end, we wrapped up the rebounds and made our free throws. We were just boxin' out. We started switchin' everything and got a hand up on their 3s."
Though Grimm did score three points over his average of 18.2 ppg, it was a big difference from the last time these two teams played. He scored 35 in the MCC Tournament championship game in a 79-75 GC win. He averaged 30.7 ppg in three games against USF in 2011-12.
"He's a great player and seems to score whenever he wants and gets to the free-throw line," Bloom said. "We wanted to make him take tough shots and I thought we made it tough for him and still scored that many points."
The Cougars led by as many as seven points (9-2) in the first half, but the Lancers outscored USF 10-7 in the final 3:14 to take a one-point lead on Grimm's basket just before halftime after five ties and nine lead changes.