You couldn’t blame some teams for having a player simply step out of bounds and prepare to inbound the ball every time Saint Francis puts up a shot during this men’s basketball season. After all, there is only one team at the entire NAIA Division II level in the country that is outshooting the No. 2-ranked Cougars.
Saint Francis (15-3, 5-1 Crossroads League) will travel to Huntington (11-7, 2-4) today at 7 p.m.
The Cougars have been a very good shooting team for a number of years. They have connected on at least 48 percent of their shots in each of the past three seasons, but have taken that accuracy to another level this year.
Saint Francis is hitting over 52 percent of its shots and it isn’t just getting a bunch of lay-ins and easy transition buckets (though the Cougars are getting those with regularity).
“A big testament goes to our guys as far as how unselfish they are,” veteran Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross said. “We talk all of the time about passing up good shots for great shots and they do that.”
Sometimes that means a closer shot to the basket, but not necessarily all of the time. The Cougars not only are the second best shooting team overall, but also the second best 3-point shooting team (they are hitting 43 percent), as well.
“We’ve got it into (front court players Kyle Sovine, Bryce Lienhoop and Perry Poindexter),” LaCross explained, “and those guys make such good decisions where our guards will feed them because they know it is not going to go up every single time.”
LaCross called Lienhoop “one of our better passers,” but at 57.7 percent shooting, he is also one of the Cougars’ better scorers. However, Lienhoop’s accuracy pales in comparison to redshirt sophomore Perry Poindexter, who has raised his game – literally and figuratively – exponentially, according to LaCross.
The 6-foot-8 forward is shooting 62.8 percent, which is 10 percentage points higher than he was at this time last year.
“If he gets his footwork down,” LaCross said, “and he goes up, man, there are not too many people in the country that can get up with him as long as he is.”
Poindexter is shooting better and that obviously has positively impacted his statistics across the board. He is playing more (over 17 minutes per game this season) and scoring more (he has nearly doubled his average to almost 10 points per game) and he is rebounding more (his 6.4 per game average is second only to Lienhoop).
There are a number of factors that have allowed Poindexter to continue to develop his game, but LaCross said one of the bigger reasons is the off-season work that Poindexter did in the weight room.
Poindexter is 20 pounds stronger than he was when he arrived on campus at Saint Francis two-plus years ago.
“He’s stronger and more mature,” LaCross said. “He’s now able to get to the basket.”
LaCross explained that a year ago Poindexter would settle for shots away from the basket, whereas this year he is playing more physical and “getting to the rim.”
“He’s strong enough where he can back guys down and just elevate over them,” LaCross said. “Here of late, I’ve really been hitting Perry hard with ‘You’ve got to get to the rim,’ and he’s done a good job of that.”
It has taken awhile this season, but Lienhoop has finally began to put up numbers that many expected of him in the preseason when he was chosen as a Crossroads League First Team selection.
Through the Cougars’ initial 14 games, Lienhoop didn’t score in double figures in nine of those. However, he has averaged just under 20 points per game over the past three games and he was honored Monday as the conference Player of the Week.
“He’s playing with much better confidence than he was,” LaCross said. “Our guys are doing a great job of kind of playing through him.”
In a recent blowout of a good Mount Vernon Nazarene squad, Lienhoop scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, and he is also averaging four assists per game during the scorching stretch.
“They understand that Bryce is one of our better passers,” LaCross said.
Ironically, Lienhoop has assumed a bigger role of facing up to the basket, which the now graduated Austin Fox had last year, and Fox too went through a poor stretch of play early last year.
“Bryce is trying to get comfortable playing more facing the basket,” LaCross said. “Last year, Bryce got a lot of easy baskets because of the attention that Austin created. Bryce fed off of that. Now he’s the guy that is having to create a little bit more than he ever has.
“Something, over the last couple of weeks has almost clicked with Bryce to where you can see he is playing with more confidence and this past week he really led us.”