Saint Francis hasn't needed to bounce back from many losses this season, but the 20th-ranked Cougars did so with confidence Wednesday night against Huntington.
Coming off only its second defeat of the season, a two-point loss to Bethel on Monday, and playing on short rest after that defeat, Saint Francis built a lead that reached as many as 26 points and hung on to beat the visiting Foresters 77-66 at the Hutzell Athletic Center.
Carroll graduate David Ejah led the way for the Cougars (14-2, 2-2 Crossroads League) with 21 points and 14 rebounds.
“It says a lot about any team, how do you respond to a loss?” Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross said. “Especially (a loss) at home and in league play, I thought it was big for our guys. And to have the focus, especially with as crazy as this season is with scheduling, playing Monday and then the quick turnaround, but our guys knew what we wanted to do and executed it.”
Saint Francis took control of the game for good midway through the first half with a 12-0 run for a 29-15 lead. Fort Wayne natives had nine of the points during the run, with four from Blackhawk Christian graduate Jalan Mull, two from Ejah and a 3 from Ejah's fellow Carroll product Dan McKeeman.
Saint Francis led 37-19 at halftime after shooting 59% to Huntington's 31% in the opening half and pressed its advantage early in the second half. McKeeman drained a 3-pointer to push the lead to 25 and Ejah later added a tough layup in traffic to balloon the margin to 55-29 with 13:51 to go.
“I thought we were able to get downhill and get to the rim and our shot selection was better tonight, too,” LaCross said. “I thought it was all built on our defense. I thought the defensive effort was really good and that's how we built a 20-, 25-point lead.”
The Cougars “got a little lax” down the stretch, as the coach put it and Huntington ripped off a 13-0 run to cut the deficit to 11 with 9:14 to go.
The run included three straight 3-pointers, including one from Columbia City product Mitchell Wilson, who had six points.
LaCross burned a timeout to halt the spurt and told his team simply to settle down.
“We just had to re-focus,” Ejah said. “It felt like we lost a little focus there and they started coming back. We had to focus back up, so it was good he called that timeout.”
The Cougars responded, with Mull and Ejah each scoring and guard Antwaan Cushingberry adding a layup to push the lead back to 16 and end the danger.
Cushingberry had 17 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
Zach Goodline led Huntington – coached by Kory Alford, son of former Manchester coach and Indiana star Steve Alford – with 22 points and eight assists.
Note: The Saint Francis women's basketball game against Spring Arbor, scheduled for Saturday at the Hutzell Center, has been postponed because of COVID-19 concerns. The Cougars are searching for a new opponent, but have yet to find one.