Top Seed Saint Francis Dominates; Advances to Title Game
Point Lookout, Mo.—Box Score | Bracket No. 1 Saint Francis (Ind.) lived up to its top overall seed as the Cougars abruptly ended No. 7 IU East and its Cinderella story 79-55 in the first semifinal of the 2016 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship.
With outstanding precision on offense coupled with a relentless defensive effort, USF left little doubt what the final outcome would be after the opening minutes.
Bryce Lienhoop, who was one point shy of a double-double in just the first half, scored off a putback that capped a 9-0 run to put the Cougars in front 11-3. Another 9-2 USF surge, ending with a thunderous dunk by Perry Poindexter Jr., gave the top seed a commanding 20-5 lead.
Saint Francis continued to dominate play at both ends in a first half that ended 44-16 in favor of the Cougars. The Cougars shot 47%, held a huge edge on the glass (31-12) and limited IU East to just 15% from the field over the first 20 minutes.
“I liked the way we took command from the start,” said Saint Francis head coach Chad LaCross. “We always talk about having good starts and these guys locked up defensively. I really felt our focus was there from the start and how we completely dominated the entire game . . . that’s what I was most pleased with tonight.”
More of the same in the second half as a Lienhoop reverse put USF up by 30 (48-18) and a three-pointer by Brogan Gary made the difference 31 points. The Cougars used their bench extensively over the final 10-plus minutes as every USF player saw at least seven minutes of court time.
USF ended the game shooting 44% from the field and continued to dominate the glass, 51-29. Lienhoop led the way with 13 points and 14 rebounds, his second double-double of the 2016 championship. All-American and the Crossroads League Player of the Year Austin Fox netted 14 points and pulled down nine boards. It was Fox’s play on the defensive end, however, holding IU East leading scorer Lucas Huffman to just seven points. Kegan Comer added 13 for the Cougars.
Parker Salinas led all scorers with 18 points playing in his final game in a Red Wolves uniform. Both Vasha Davis and Nate Niehoff scored nine for IU East, who missed 11 of its first 13 shots and shot 27% for the game. The Red Wolves incredible championship run comes to a close with a 22-14 record.
USF, improving its already school record win total to 33-4, advances to play in its third championship game on Tuesday night, March 15. The Cougars won the title in 2010 and lost to Cornerstone in the championship game in 2011.
“Trust me I don’t take this for granted at all,” said LaCross, coaching in his third national championship. “I understand there’s a lot of guys I look up to who have been doing it for a long, time and have not had the opportunity that I’ve had. Really, it’s just a credit to my assistant coaches – coach Luke Cummings, coach (Jeremy) Henney, coach (Todd) Martin, coach (Zach) Welklin. All those guys put in so much time and obviously our players as well. I’m definitely blessed.”