In an all-Fort Wayne hardwood battle between Saint Francis and Indiana Tech on Wednesday night, the Cougars emerged with the victory thanks in large part to a pair of Summit City natives.
Carroll graduate David Ejah scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and Blackhawk Christian product Jalan Mull had 16 points – 12 in the second half – as Saint Francis won 72-67 at the Schaefer Center.
Rog Stein, Josh Kline and Max Perez all had 14 points to lead the Warriors (2-2).
“We've had kind of a rocky start, probably as most teams have, with COVID and quarantine and stuff like that, so to come off a good win against IU-Southeast last Friday in Huntington's classic and then to come here and build off that win is huge,” Cougars coach Chad LaCross said. “It's huge for our guys' early season. To come across town on Tech's home floor and take care of business, that's big.”
The Cougars (2-0) didn't start like a team on the way to a rivalry victory. Indiana Tech raced out to a 21-11 lead behind six points from Stein inside. The Cougars started 2 of 16 from the field and Ejah was taken out of the game because LaCross felt like “he didn't come out ready to play.” He sat for six minutes of the first half before returning.
The situation was bad enough that LaCross punched his chair following one particularly sloppy series.
When Ejah did return, he helped bolster a big Saint Francis turnaround near the end of the first half. The high-flying 6-foot-6 sophomore tied the game at 23 with a right-handed hook in the lane and then put the Cougars in front 28-25 with a strong finish inside, plus a foul and a free throw, that got the Saint Francis bench on its feet. He added seven straight points at the end of the half, including a two-handed power jam and a 3-pointer from the right wing.
“It took me sitting on the bench for like six minutes,” said Ejah of what got him going. “I really was not playing as hard as I could. That really woke me up, so I had to step up for my team. ... I felt the game a little bit (when I went back in). I let the game come to me.”
Saint Francis ended the first half on a 27-7 run and led 38-28 at the break.
The Cougars extended their lead to as many as 16 in the second half on another Ejah 3 – he went 8 for 14 from the field and 2 of 5 from long distance – but Tech slowly starting creeping back in.
Stein scored six straight with two layups and a huge dunk to make it 48-43 Cougars, but Ejah responded with rim-rattling putback dunk. From there, it was almost all Mull, who took control of the offense and got to the rim from the backcourt again and again, finishing layups and getting to the foul line. He'd missed several layups in the first half, but had some terrific plays to keep Saint Francis in front down the stretch.
“They challenged Jalan and let him go one-on-one and he was able to go to work tonight,” LaCross said.