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NAIA Notes: Saint Francis sharing the ball, which fuels success

Saint Francis sophomore guard Connor Lautzenheiser
Saint Francis men's basketball coach Chad LaCross
Saint Francis senior center Bryce Lienhoop

Veteran Saint Francis men’s basketball coach Chad LaCross gave credit to his team’s defensive play Saturday following the Cougars’ impressive 90-79 beating of Cornerstone in the Elite Eight round of the NAIA Division II National Tournament, and with good reason.

The Cougars forced Cornerstone into missing 65 percent of its 3-point shots, as Saint Francis pounded the Eagles 52-28 in the opening 20 minutes.

“Our defensive effort was unbelievable,” LaCross told News-Sentinel.com following the game. “Our guys were locked in and we were really active.”

Saint Francis (28-8) will play the winner of College of Idaho and Marian University Monday at 9 p.m. (EST) for the opportunity to play for the national championship Tuesday.

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As impressive as the Cougars were at that end of the court, they were even more so at the other.

Of the 28 made shots against the Eagles’ defense, Saint Francis players passed off on more than half (15) of those.

“They are doing a great job,” LaCross said of his players sharing the basketball. “We talk about passing up good shots for great shots. I thought our guys forced Cornerstone to defend by moving the ball.”

Saint Francis got four assists apiece out of seniors Bryce Lienhoop and Derek Hinen and have now passed off for 39 makes in the tournament’s three games.

“We played two to three and even sometimes four sides of the floor on offense,” LaCross said, “and I thought that was key in winning the game.”

Lienhoop leads his team in the tournament with 13 assists.

NEW LOCALE, SAME GREAT TOURNAMENT

When the College of the Ozarks threw a figurative trapping defense at the NAIA last fall and announced that it would not allow any type of protest of the National Anthem, the organization was caught in a bind.

With little notice, the NAIA had to find a new location to put on the 32-team tournament, which had been held in Point Lookout, Mo. since 2000 and was scheduled to be there through 2019.

However, the community of Sioux Falls, S. D,, which also hosts the Summit League men’s and women’s tournaments knows a thing or two about conducting a tournament, and LaCross said that he has enjoyed his time at the new site.

“The venue is one of the nicest venues that I have been in,” LaCross said.

The tournament games are being played in the Sanford Pentagon, which is home to the NBA G-League Sioux Falls Sky Force. LaCross said that the availability of facilities, which lagged at the College of the Ozarks, have been very nice for his student-athletes to utilize over the past four days.

“The main court is really, really nice,” LaCross said. “But how they have it set up, there are other courts where our guys can get some shots before games and the locker room situation is very nice.

“I’m extremely happy with it.”

YOUNG, BUT NOT PLAYING THAT WAY

Saint Francis has gotten very strong play out of seniors Hinen and Lienhoop in a number of ways. However, Cougar sophomore Connor Lautzenheiser has been very effective, as well.

The Ohio native tied Lienhoop with a team-best 23 points in Saturday’s win and he did so by sinking 5 of his 7 3-point shots.

Interestingly, Lautzenheiser missed his first four shots of the tournament, but has made 11 of 20 since that point, including 7 of 11 against Cornerstone.

“He struggled,” LaCross said of the game against Keiser, “but ever since then, he has taken good ones. He has taken open 3’s instead of forcing anything and right now he is on a roll.”

Lautzenheiser scored 14 in the second round win over Northwestern (Iowa) and was one of four Cougars to score in double figures that game.

“A lot of it goes to his confidence,” LaCross said. “It’s been fun to watch him and he played with a chip on his shoulder tonight.”

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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