Saint Francis played all but 3:07 of the first half without its best player, junior center Scott Kohne, who picked up two early fouls. Despite that, the Cougars rode the incredible play of seniors Kevin Bloom (17 first half points) and Brad Sneary (10 points, eight rebounds) to a 43-42 halftime advantage.
“I was very pleased overall,” Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross said of the first 20 minutes. “Defensively we were solid.”
That positive momentum continued through the first 8:13 of the final period, which is when it all fell apart.
Saint Francis sophomore Josh Hogan scored at the 11:47 mark to put his team ahead 62-60, but Bethel responded with a 10-0 run over the ensuing 4:14, which morphed into a 23-4 run over an 8:48 period.
The Saint Francis defense allowed not just repeated lay-ups by Bethel (22-9) drivers, but uncontested lay-ups.
“They got basically whatever they wanted,” LaCross said.
It will be a strange March for the followers of Saint Francis basketball. For the first time in four seasons, there will be no trip to the NAIA Division II National Tournament in Point Lookout, Mo.
“When you aren't as successful, you look at the overall picture,” LaCross said. “We just need to get better.”
A noticeable part of Wednesday's defeat was the physicality that the Pilot posts of Leo High School graduate Jordan Bowerman and Concordia Lutheran graduate Patrick Oetting played with against Kohne.
Kohne repeatedly got pushed around and he repeatedly sought aid from the officials – often to no avail.
“We've got to get in the weight room,” LaCross said. “We've got to get stronger. We've got to make sure that we don't let officials affect our play. I thought we (allowed that) tonight.”
Saint Francis struggled with consistency throughout this season. Following a 10-2 start, LaCross' team never won more – or lost more – than two consecutive games, as it finished the year with an 8-11 stretch. The Cougars' 10-8 Crossroads League record wasn't unusual; they had finished with the same number of league wins in each of the past three seasons (and were a nine-win team in 2008-09). However, the difference showed in post-season toughness on Wednesday.
Whereas, in the three previous seasons, Saint Francis played its best basketball at this point, it folded when Bethel challenged it on Wednesday.
“We'll get back in the gym,” LaCross said. “We'll just work harder and get better.”
Bloom led the Cougars with 21 points and three assists, while Hogan added 18 points. Kohne was limited to just eight points and five rebounds.
Bowerman totaled 20 points and five boards in the win, while Oetting added four points and five boards.