FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Another NAIA Top 25 Showdown, another packed house and unfortunately for No. 3-ranked University of Saint Francis, another close-but-no-cigar setback to No. 6 Indiana Wesleyan University on Saturday afternoon.
Nearly 1,800 jammed Hutzell Athletic Center for the battle for first place in the Crossroads League and the Wildcats prevailed 86-82 to take a one-game lead over the Cougars with two games to play in the regular season. USF had led or co-led the CL all season, but now need help
in its bid for the regular season crown. The Cougars have to win at home on Wednesday against Grace College, then on the road at Bethel College next Saturday. USF also has to hope IWU stumbles at Mt. Vernon Nazarene University on Tuesday or at home next Saturday against Spring Arbor, or lose both games.
IWU would have to lose twice for USF to win the regular season title outright and with it the No. 1 seed in the CL Tournament that starts on Tues., Feb. 20.
It was the second consecutive loss for USF, the first back-to-back losses since very early in the season when the Cougars lost to No. 1 Cornerstone University and Indiana Tech. IWU rose to sole possession of first place with its sixth consecutive win and third straight road victory.
“They’re good, real good,” USF Head Coach Chad LaCross confirmed. “We fought back to have a chance at the end, but just couldn’t get that one big stop when we needed it.”
LaCross would definitely like to play IWU a third time this season because it would mean playing for the CLT championship on Feb. 27. USF has the No. 2 seed for sure since the Cougars lead Bethel and Marian University by three games with two to play.
Chandler White gave the Cougars their only lead in the second half when the junior drove through the paint and dropped in a one-hander that put USF in front 67-66 with 7:27 to play. Kyle Mangas made sure it was a short-lived lead scoring at 7:16 for a 68-67 IWU lead that the Wildcats stretched to nine, 82-73, on two Mangas free throws with 1:49 to play.
USF scored seven points in the next 1:34 — two twisting, turning scores by Bryce Lienhoop in the paint and a White 3-pointer with just 15 seconds to play. IWU smartly got the ball inbounded to Mangas, who USF had to foul hoping the freshman would miss. No such luck. Mangas hit four free throws in the time remaining while White hit one more two-point jumper leaving USF four short of a tie.
USF ‘held’ Mangas to 24 points, 15 in the second half, after he scored 40 for IWU in the first meeting. He led IWU scoring.
Lienhoop led USF scoring with 19 even though he only played 14 minutes, 52 seconds again shackled by foul problems. He scored 16 points in the second half playing just eight minutes, 46 seconds. White penned his sixth double double this season scoring 16 points and securing 10 rebounds. White scored 12 points in the second half. Austin Compton came off the bench to score 16 points, eight in each half. For Compton, it was a career best for points in a game. And Derek Hinen scored 10 points in the first half and finished with 14.
The first half saw five ties and four lead changes with the Cougars taking the lead just before the half on a Compton layup preceded by a Devon Tennant blocked shot. USF led 36-35 after shooting 60 percent (15 for 25) in the first 20 minutes. IWU shot .545 on 12-for-22 shooting including 5-for-9 shooting from 3-point range. IWU outscored USF 15-3 from 3-point range in the first half, 36-15 for the game after shooting 64 percent from the arc (7 for 11) in the second half.