It isn’t time to panic for the Saint Francis men’s basketball program just yet. After all, the Cougars are 13-3 overall and 3-1 in the Crossroads League (just a game back of leader Indiana Wesleyan). However, the fact does remain that No. 2-ranked Saint Francis has lost three of its last five games and is venturing into its full-fledged conference schedule.
The Cougars host a struggling Grace (8-8, 0-4) squad today at the Hutzell Athletic Center (8 p.m.). The Lancers opened the season with an 8-1 record, but have lost seven straight.
Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross is correct in his assessment that his team has had “some really good moments,” this season, but it has also been inconsistent defensively, as well as at the free throw line, which has cost the Cougars victories.
“We’ve defended really well,” LaCross told The News-Sentinel recently, “at times. That is the key to our team. If we’ll have a consistent effort, over the course of the game, we’ll be really good.”
But that hasn’t always happened.
Over the past five games, Saint Francis has been solid defensively in wins at No. 7-ranked Taylor (the Trojans shot just 36 percent) and against MidAmerica Nazarene (the Cougars held a 10-rebound advantage), but has also struggled in losses at Goshen and against IU East and Bellevue.
In the loss to the Maple Leafs, Saint Francis allowed them to shoot nearly 50 percent from the floor and Goshen did manage that from 3-point range (13 of 26), while against IU East, the Red Wolves scorched the nets at a 55 percent rate and hit 10 3-pointers.
In its latest loss at Bellevue, Saint Francis again allowed an opponent to hit 10 3-pointers, as half of Bellevue’s 60 shot attempts were from beyond the arc.
“We’re capable of defending at a high level,” LaCross said. “It’s just a matter of doing it. The biggest thing when you look at our team to see if we are defending really well is our ball pressure.”
That “ball pressure” was evident against Bellevue, as it shot just 43 percent, but regardless of the Cougars’ defensive effort – and this plagued them in that 69-68 loss – is the fact that Saint Francis continually hurts itself with poor free throw shooting.
Against Bellevue, the Cougars missed half of their dozen free throws and in games against IU East (missed 11 free throws) and Goshen (missed nine), the same problem occurred.
The issue has even been prominent in victories, but Saint Francis is talented enough to often overcome terrible performances from the line.
The Cougars missed 11 free throws in wins against Cumberland, as well as against Lourdes and Indiana Tech (seven misses each), Ohio Christian (nine), Marian (13), Taylor and MidAmerica Nazarene (eight misses in each).
Comer is OK
Athletes are supposed to be at their most productive in the final year of their careers, not the least productive. However, in the case of Saint Francis senior guard Kegan Comer, he is currently averaging the fewest points of his career.
He scored over 11 points per game as a freshman, and over 13 each night during the past two seasons. However, this season he is averaging just 9.6 points per game.
There are several reasons for Comer’s diminished scoring, one of which has been his move from a more scoring-centric spot in the backcourt to his focus on running the offense, and he has adapted to that role well.
Comer has increased his assists by over one per game (he is dishing out 3.875 per game this year), but has also lowered his turnovers per game to barely one per game (he tossed it away over two times each game last season), all while playing just one less minute per game.
Another reason is that Saint Francis is far more balanced and has better depth than years past.
Last season, the Cougars had four players that averaged at least 9.6 points per game, but that has increased to seven players this season. Saint Francis is the best shooting team nationally at the NAIA Division II level with a 52.5 percent field goal rate, and is second best from 3-point range (43.7 percent).