"They made a couple more plays than we did," Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross said. "We did compete the entire game. I thought the way we competed in this game was a lot different than the previous two games."
Ninth-ranked Saint Francis jumped out to a 10-point first half lead (32-22) on scorching shooting by sophomore guard Jordan Hahn (17 oints on 5 of 7 3-point shooting), but the 11th-ranked Wildcats rallied to pull to within 41-39 at halftime. But the second half was a different story.
Neither team could get enough defensive stops to separate from the other, as the game finished with 15 lead changes in the second half, 12 during a seven minutes stretch in the last 10 minutes.
With just under three minutes remaining, Indiana Wesleyan senior center R.J. Mahurin (30 points) put his team ahead for good at 72-71.
Saint Francis forward Josh Hogan missed a 3-pointer and Cougar post Scott Kohne fouled Jordan Weidner with 2:16 to play. Weidner hit both free throws for a 74-71 margin, but the Cougars did cut the deficit to 74-73 on a Kohne jumper at 1:54.
Whitko High School alum Zac Vandewater answered at 1:26 for a 76-73 Indiana Wesleyan lead, before Hogan hit two free throws again trimming the deficit to one (76-75). Mahurin answered with 47 seconds left with a score and when Hahn missed a 3-pointer from the corner, Hogan fouled Weidner near mid-court and Weidner hit both free throws with 28 seconds to play for an 80-75 lead.
Kegan Comer scored on a running layup off the glass with 21 seconds left, but again, Wiedner (21 points) responded with a free throw and the Wildcats led 81-77.
Comer missed a shot with eight seconds to play and Lane Mahurin (8 points, six rebounds) was fouled with six seconds left. He missed both free throws, but Comer's 3-pointer was too little too late.
Kohne (eight rebounds) led Saint Francis with 21 points, followed by Hogan (20 points, four rebounds, four assists), and Austin Fox (11 points, 9 rebounds).
Vandewater chipped in 11 points in the victory, as Indiana Wesleyan shot 58.5 percent from the field.
Saint Francis connected at a 50 percent rate, including 55.6 percent in the opening half.
"We didn't do everything right by any means, but we didn't take any plays off," LaCross said. "It was two pretty good teams going nose to nose. I can live with that when lose a game like that. I thought we stayed focused for all 40 minutes tonight."
Saint Francis will host 20th-ranked Bethel (19-5, 8-4) Tuesday at 7 p.m.