POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. – There was a lesson to be learned by the basketball fans that watched Saint Francis beat Oregon Tech 100-92 in its 2017 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Tournament opener Wednesday. That lesson is one of perseverance and it can be applied to people of all walks of life and in any situation.
Austin Compton knows this lesson well.
The redshirt freshman guard played the best game of his college career to help his team when it desperately needed it, and few could have envisioned that scenario unfolding earlier this season.
“Austin has been really big for us through this stretch of 10, 11, 12 games to end the season,” Cougar coach Chad LaCross said.
Compton scored 13 of his career-best 15 points in the second half to help hold off the Hustlin' Owls. Saint Francis (23-10) advances to face Cornerstone (31-3) Friday at 9:30 a.m. (EST).
The Cougars were valiantly trying to hold off Oregon Tech (24-10) early in the second half when senior guard Kegan Comer picked up his fourth foul with nearly 17:00 still remaining in the game.
“I probably can’t tell you what I was thinking,” Comer said of the foul, “but in a more polite way, I knew whoever was going to come in was going to do the exact same thing that I could do – or better.”
Which is what Compton did.
He scored seven points over the next seven-plus minutes and helped keep Oregon Tech at bay, while Comer sat on the bench and bought LaCross some valuable time.
“I wasn’t attacking very well,” Comer said, “but this guy could get to the rim whenever he wanted.”
Compton scored on an array of drives, but also worked defensively and found open teammates. None of which was occurring for much of his career at Saint Francis.
After suffering two shoulder injuries in high school, Compton spent his first season with the Cougars as a medical redshirt simply trying to get healthy enough for days like Wednesday. But even when he was finally ready to play this season, LaCross didn’t really like what he saw.
From Nov. 18 to Jan. 24 of this season, LaCross only gave Compton a total of 16 minutes in five games. It was a stretch of 16 games in which Compton never needed to take off his warm-ups 11 times.
“Austin went through a tough patch,” LaCross said. “I know his head was down. I know he was frustrated, but he needed to get past that and get better in practice.”
Compton could’ve complained, but he didn’t. He worked.
“Once he got better in practice,” LaCross explained, “it translated to the court (in games) and he has done an outstanding job for us.”
Compton has been used for double-figure minutes in 9 of the Cougars’ last 10 games, none of which were more critical than Wednesday’s game.
“At the beginning of the year,” Compton said, “I was still shaky, rusty. I wasn’t really at the top of my game. Just in this last stretch, to finally feel healthy, to battle back and get some (playing time) has been great.”
LaCross played Compton nearly 24 minutes, which was a season-high for the 6-foot Frankton High grad.
The Cougars were led by junior forward Bryce Lienhoop with 24 points and 14 rebounds, while Kyle Sovine (15 points, 10 rebounds), Comer (17 points), Evan Henry (14 points), and Chandler White (10 points, five rebounds) also contributed.
“That is what I love about this team,” Comer said, “it doesn’t matter who you put on the court, everybody can produce.
“We have the same amount of confidence in everybody down the line.”