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Saint Francis senior closing career in an explosive way

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

Derek Hinen had only played in one NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Tournament game in his four seasons as a college basketball player prior to this week, and he didn’t perform well in that game. However, the Columbia City High School graduate is more than making up for that performance as his career winds to a close.

The Saint Francis senior has exploded onto the national scene over the past three days and has his team on the cusp of a national championship.

Hinen scored 22 points to go with his five rebounds and four assists Saturday to lift the Cougars past their oft-nemesis, Cornerstone, 90-79 in Sioux Falls, S.D. in the Elite Eight round of the tournament.

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.

“He has shown great leadership, not only on the floor, but off the floor,” veteran Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross told News-Sentinel.com following the win. “On the floor, his communication has been outstanding.”

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Hinen spent three years with the Huntington University program, which advanced to the national tournament just once, that being in Hinen’s freshman season.

The Foresters’ postseason lasted just 40 minutes and Hinen’s play didn’t help matters much, as he missed 6 of his 8 shots in that loss to Southeastern (Fla.). However, he has not only been a different player this year, but LaCross said this month, as well.

In the 10 games leading up to the national tournament, the 6-foot-3 guard averaged 13 points per game. However, in the three games in Sioux Falls, that number has soared to over 29 per game.

“It’s been a different Derek than down the stretch,” LaCross said. “I felt like down the stretch in conference play, he wasn’t playing with very much confidence and now he is.”

Hinen opened the tournament by scorching the nets for 32 points on 13 of 18 shooting in a win over Keiser University (Fla.) and then followed that up with a dominating performance against Northwestern (Iowa).

In that second game, Hinen hit 11 of 21 shots (a season-high on attempts) for 34 points. His aggressiveness (or confidence, if you will) got him to the free throw line 11 times and he sank 10 of those shots.

For the tournament, Hinen is shooting 62 percent from the floor.

“He feels like he can make every shot,” LaCross said, “and make every play. But he also knows that we have other guys who can get it done, as well.”

Saturday’s game was a perfect example of that.

Yes, Hinen scored 22 points on 7 of 11 shooting, but guard Connor Lautzenheiser and senior Bryce Lienhoop did him one better by scoring 23 points each.

“Derek isn’t forcing anything,” LaCross continued, “but he is taking what the defense gives him.”

SOARING PAST THE EAGLES

The Cougars advanced to their fourth Final Four in the past nine seasons, which in and of itself is nice, but overcoming Cornerstone to do so made it that much sweeter.

The Eagles (30-5) had beaten Saint Francis four consecutive times, including earlier this season 66-63 in Fort Wayne.

“Our defensive effort was unbelievable,” LaCross said. “Our guys were locked in and we were really active.”

The Eagles missed 13 of 20 3-pointers (making just 35 percent), as the Cougars raced out to a 52-28 halftime lead.

“We knew that we wanted to take away their perimeter shooters,” LaCross said, “and make them work for everything.”

Cornerstone ended Saint Francis’ tournament run in the Sweet 16 a year ago and also knocked the Cougars out in the Elite Eight in 2015.

“We just had to make them work,” LaCross said, “and I thought our guys did an outstanding job.”

Saint Francis shot 59.5 percent from the field and an amazing 8 of 10 from long range.

Lienhoop not only scored 23 points, but also grabbed a team-best seven boards to go with four assists.

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

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