“I'm a big fan of fouling,” LaCross said emphatically.
But in the Cougars' 69-66 overtime loss to Robert Morris (Ill.) on Thursday in the NAIA Division II National Tournament in Point Lookout, Mo., LaCross had his hands tied, figuratively, while his team held a 60-59 advantage in the waning seconds of regulation.
“Our situation was a little bit different,” LaCross said.
With eight seconds remaining in regulation, Cougar senior Scott Kohne was fouled, and he went to the free-throw line to, in theory, seal the victory. Saint Francis was out of timeouts, so LaCross had neither the time to mull it over nor the opportunity to explain his plan to his players.
“We had no timeouts and Scott's at the line to hopefully put us up (62-59),” LaCross said. “It wasn't one of those things where we could say, 'Hey, we're going to foul.' Because one, we don't even know if he's going to make both of them (at that point).”
Kohne did what a senior All-American should do and sank both shots to put his team up 62-59.
At that point, LaCross' main concern was not to allow Eagle shooter Sean Montgomery to get a clean look from 3-point range on the final possession.
The Saint Francis defense did their job, as Montgomery was pressured to pass to teammate Demarko Nash, who hadn't hit a 3-pointer all game.
But he did then.
Nash's shot was on target, and Robert Morris had survived to play another five minutes.
“Montgomery was the only guy that we were worried about,” LaCross said. “(Nash) had one airball, if not two.”
That is how this opening game of the tournament played out for both squads. Neither team led by double digits, and there were 14 ties and 16 lead changes.
“I thought that we left it all on the floor,” LaCross said. “I thought that we played to our game plan. Defensively, we were solid.”
Ultimately, it was the Cougar' offense which proved to be their downfall.
Saint Francis (21-11) shot just 37 percent from the field, and in the final 22 seconds of the extra session, forwards Josh Hogan and Austin Fox missed scoring opportunities that would have put their team ahead.
LaCross was concerned with the Eagles' athleticism entering the game.
Robert Morris (24-9) did outrebound the Cougars 38-28, but Saint Francis didn't allow the Eagles' defensive pressure to cause them problems (the Cougars had just eight turnovers). In the end, LaCross was disappointed with the outcome, but not with his team.
“There was one play where there were eight guys on the floor diving for the ball down the stretch,” LaCross said. “It was just kind of back-and-forth.
“But when you're used to winning, and you're used to getting to the national tournament, I think we're now 13-5 in the national tournament, so we've had a lot of success out here.”
The Cougars were paced by Fox (18 points and 11 rebounds). Kohne chipped in 14 points and 11 boards to close his career, in which he was a two-time All-America selection.
“To look back at the past three years and see everything that (Kohne) was able to accomplish,” LaCross said, “it was pretty incredible. Especially considering he was playing JV (at Bishop Dwenger High School) as a junior.”
Hogan scored 17 in the defeat, while freshman guard Kegan Comer scored nine points, dished out three assists and made three steals.
The trip back to the national tournament was the fourth in the past five seasons for Saint Francis after a one-year hiatus last year.
“We've got one senior that really played (Kohne),” LaCross said. “I'm very proud of the guys for what we accomplished. But once you're here, and knowing that anything can happen, and to have a three-point lead with eight seconds to go, you want to take care of business.”