MARION – It was the small things that cost Saint Francis in its 85-77 loss to No. 4-ranked Indiana Wesleyan on the road on Tuesday.
But when those same small things have plagued the Cougars throughout the first half of the Crossroads League season, patience begins to wear thin for the Saint Francis coaching staff.
Against the Wildcats, a slow start immediately put the Cougars in a bad spot. Couple that with bad offensive recognition and poor free throw shooting and you have the recipe for why Saint Francis trailed from beginning to end on Tuesday.
“I don't feel good,” said Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross when asked to evaluate his team's 5-4 start to the conference season. “Obviously, our goal is to win the league (and) we're not where we want to be. No matter what the year is or what team it is, at the halfway point of the season if we're not leading the conference, we're not in a good spot.”
The Cougars (13-8) had a chance to make some headway in the league race against Indiana Wesleyan, which sits atop the conference standings at 8-1. But the Wildcats (19-2) jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead and forced Saint Francis to play catch-up the rest of the way.
The first half lead grew to as many as 10 before the Cougars began to trim the deficit. Saint Francis cut the lead to one on two different occasions midway through the second half, but were unable to go ahead. In one instance, the Cougars had the ball down one, but turned the ball over, one of 16 on the night.
“We get down one and (Indiana Wesleyan) goes to a zone and it is like we don't register it,” LaCross said. “It is like we haven't seen a zone before and that's the frustrating thing because we work on that a lot of the time.”
Both teams shot a wealth of free throws in the second half, with the squads combining to take 55 of them for the night. But the Cougars' woes from the line – where they have shot just 65 percent from the line for the year – continued on Tuesday. Saint Francis finished just 16-of-26 for the night, good for 61 percent.
Indiana Wesleyan shot 23-of-29 for 79 percent.
“We were obviously aggressive and attacking, that's what we need to do,” LaCross said. “But we need to take advantage of the free throws. That has kind of snuck up on us (all season).”
The Cougars showed glimpses of what they can be when the team plays a complete 40 minutes of basketball. Junior forward Scott Kohne finished with a game-high 26 points despite being held scoreless through the first 12 minutes of the game. Sophomore Josh Hogan added 25 in the loss.
But errors in judgment and fundamentals have so far held Saint Francis back.
“We felt like we had them where we wanted them (in the second half),” LaCross said. “They couldn't stop us inside and we kind of let them off the hook.”