FORT WAYNE, Ind. — For a span of about six minutes, scoring seemed so easy as No. 3 University of Saint Francis opened up a 15-point lead in the second half, but Mt. Vernon Nazarene University wouldn’t go away and USF had to fight and claw for a 77-70 win on Saturday afternoon.
USF reached the 20-win plateau for the seventh time in eight seasons under the guidance of Head Coach Chad LaCross and protected its one-game lead at the top of the Crossroads League standings.
MVNU crept back as close as three points, 67-64, with 1:50 to play after a Jeremiah Roberts 3-pointer. Bryce
Lienhoop had the answer from the free throw line when he hit two free throws with 1:25 to play. After an MVNU miss, Chandler White hit two free throws at 51 seconds for a 73-65 USF lead. Jacob Paul hit two free throws and Roberts scored again after a Jevon Knox steal drawing MVNU within five, 73-68.
White, who made 10 of 11 free throws in the second half, was fouled and made two more for a 75-68 lead and later Connor Lautzenheizer, who scored 17 points in the second half, added two free throws for a 77-68 lead with just nine seconds to play.
USF trailed 30-28 at halftime, but rallied to win and improve to 9-2 in games its trails at halftime.
“We talked about pickin’ each other up and playin’ for one another and I thought we did an excellent job of that,” LaCross revealed. “Bryce came out in the second (half) and did a nice job of establishing himself deep in the post and that made a big difference as well (in the second half). I thought we played with more energy in the second half and that showed. I told (his players) at halftime if we continue to get the looks we got in the first half and shoot (the ball) with confidence, we would take care of business. Overall team effort and great to get back in the win column today.”
USF led by as many as four points at 8-4 early in the first half and trailed by as many as eight points at 20-12 with 9:20 to play in the first half. Derek Hinen’s 3-pointer started USF back trimming the deficit to five, 20-15, with 9:05 to play in the first half. Stephen Turner flipped in a baby hook to tie the game for USF at 25. Paul answered for MVNU with a 3-pointer that helped MVNU hold a 30-28 haltime lead.
Lienhoop scored to tie the game at 30 with 19:17 to play and after two more ties, the last at 44, USF guard Connor Lautzenheizer took over. His short J in the lane put USF ahead 46-44 starting 12-0 USF run to forge a 56-44 lead at 10:57 on a Lautzenheiser bank shot. By the time USF opened up a 63-48 lead with 8:15 to play, Lautzenheiser had scored nine points in the 19-4 USF surge to the lead.
“He did an excellent job of gettin’ into the paint and attackin’ aggressively,” LaCross observed about the play of Lautzenheiser, who scored 21 points in support of Chandler White, who led USF with 22 points. “Compton did a nice job of givin’ us a spark. White was aggressive as well and did an excellent job gettin’ to the free throw line and scoring from there. We made some big plays offensively off big plays defensively in the second half.”
Having Lienhoop for more of the second half also helped the USF production. After playing just over six minutes in the first half after picking up his second foul with 11:33 to play in the first half. Lienhoop scored 11 points, all in the second half. White scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half.