Dave Eggen/Inertia Bryce Lienhoop of Saint Francis tries to drive to the basket against College of Idaho's Aziz Leeks during Monday night's NAIA Division II men's basketball semifinal game at Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.
(Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia) SIOUX FALLS, SD - MARCH 12: Derek Hinen #34 from St. Francis drives against Talon Pinckney #11 from the College of Idaho during their semifinal game at the 2018 NAIA DII Men's Basketball Championship at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls.
Tuesday, March 13, 2018 1:00 am
NAIA championships Saint Francis 70 Col. of Idaho 59
Cougars eyeing crown
Will take on rival Indiana Wesleyan tonight for title
Tom Savage | For The Journal Gazette
Who: Saint Francis vs. Indiana Wesleyan
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Sanford Pentagon, Sioux Falls, S.D.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Saint Francis can score in a hurry, and it's had little trouble finding points in the NAIA Division II national tournament.
But it was another defensive gem that propelled the Cougars to the national championship game with a 70-59 victory over the College of Idaho in Monday's national semifinal.
Saint Francis will play Crossroads League rival Indiana Wesleyan for the title at 7 p.m. today. It will be the third time the teams have played for the title, including 2014 and 2016, with Indiana Wesleyan winning both.
The Wildcats (30-7) are led by Warsaw grad Kyle Mangas, a freshman who broke the school's all-time single-season scoring record with 775 points.
The Cougars (29-8) limited the College of Idaho to just 35 percent from the floor and erased a seven-point second half deficit to pull out the come-from-behind victory.
The Yotes (30-7) scored just 29 second-half points and failed to build on a five-point halftime lead. The 59 points scored is the lowest output of the season for the College of Idaho.
“The bigger the game, the better we're playing right now,” Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross said. “We came out and executed really well. But it was the defensive side of the ball that was the difference. I really feel like we frustrated them.”
Trailing 30-25 at the break, Saint Francis needed an offensive lift, and for the fourth straight game, they got it from Derek Hinen.
The senior from Columbia City scored 15 second-half points and led all scorers with 21. He also had eight rebounds and three assists.
“His confidence is unbelievable right now,” LaCross said of Hinen. “He's playing so well on both ends of the floor and is just kind of carrying us right now. He's so unselfish, too. When he's willing to give it up and not force anything, he's tough.”
Saint Francis got the lead for good after an 11-2 run early in the second half. Hinen scored six during the run.
They got the lead to 13 points with just under two minutes to go when Austin Compton hit a 3-pointer.
The College of Idaho cut it to eight but could get no closer.
It looked at the beginning that Saint Francis would cruise again as they clamped down on defense. They built an early 19-12 lead midway through the first half, and the Yotes were struggling, shooting just 21 percent from the field, and Saint Francis looked poised to make it look easy down the stretch.
But the College of Idaho got back-to-back baskets from Gibson Berryhill moments later, and the comeback was on.
“We told them we got what we wanted in the first half,” LaCross said of the halftime talk. “We felt we could get what we wanted, we just needed to execute a little better. I think we did in the second half.”
The Cougars won the NAIA Division II championship in 2010 with a victory over Walsh.
“I just love the effort of our guys, there's just no quit in them,” LaCross said. “There's no bigger game than tomorrow.”