Something will have to give when Saint Francis takes on Oregon Tech to open the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Tournament Wednesday.
The four-seed Cougars (22-10) will face the five-seed Hustlin’ Owls (24-9) at 1 p.m. (EST) at Point Lookout, Mo. and the two teams are a very interesting contrast.
What each squad likes to do, the other is great at hindering.
“We’re talented enough to go out and compete and really make a run,” Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross told The News-Sentinel recently.
While the Cougars are the fifth best 3-point shooting team in the nation (40 percent), Oregon Tech contains opposing 3-point shooters better than any team, any where. The Hustlin’ Owls have limited opponents to a mere 30 percent shooting from long range this year.
Another interesting matchup will be how the two teams fare against each other in the paint.
With guys like Kyle Sovine (6-foot-9, fifth-year senior), Bryce Lienhoop (6-foot-6, junior), and Perry Poindexter (6-foot-8, redshirt sophomore), Saint Francis is the sixth-best defensive rebounding team in the nation. However, taking that strength away is what the Hustlin’ Owls have based their entire success this year on.
Oregon Tech is the best offensive rebounding team in the entire country, but LaCross likes his guys.
“We talked before the season that we could have the best rotation of bigs in the country,” LaCross said. “We just haven’t played to that (level) throughout the season.”
But they have recently.
The Cougars knocked off Crossroads League champion Bethel in late February and LaCross said that it was in large part due to how his post players competed physically against the third-ranked team in the country.
“We’ve been a lot more physical inside,” LaCross said. “The Bethel game was a really physical game and our guys didn’t back down.”
Sovine has the skill-set to be a frightening matchup for opponents. He has size and strength to battle defensively, while offensively, he can score facing up or on the block. He has drained 17 3-pointers this season (including a critical one in a recent Crossroads League Tournament game at Indiana Wesleyan), but LaCross wants to see him inside more.
“He can dominate inside,” LaCross said. “A lot of times, he settles for being the trail man and not running to the front rim and posting hard. I think teams would rather have Kyle on the perimeter than inside posting hard.”
A year ago, getting inside was Lienhoop’s job. Former Cougar standout Austin Fox would face-up and put the ball on the floor and either create or find open teammates, but Lienhoop has assumed that role this year.
He has 95 assists this season, which is just 10 off of team-leader Kegan Comer.
“Early in the year,” LaCross said, “I thought Bryce was struggling a little bit being more on the perimeter than he had to last year.”
But he is not of late.
In five of the past seven games, Lienhoop has dished for at least four assists, some of whom have found Sovine.
“The way that they are reading each other,” LaCross explained of Lienhoop and Sovine, “and feeding off of each other, they are definitely becoming more comfortable with one another.”
Another key component to preventing Oregon Tech from dominating on the glass will be the reemerging Poindexter.
Poindexter was very productive through the first two months of the season, but struggled through much of the Crossroads League season. However, he has begun to be more active and productive in recent games. He has played double figure minutes in four of the last six games and is coming off of an impressive 14-point, five-rebound game against defending national champion Indiana Wesleyan.
“Perry was a big part,” LaCross said of nearly winning at Indiana Wesleyan before his team fell at the buzzer. “He was really active. He took it strong to the basket instead of settling for fade-away hooks. We need that out of Perry.”