POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. – There will be very little that surprises either program in today’s Saint Francis vs. Cornerstone men’s basketball game.The Cougars (23-10) will face the Golden Eagles (31-3) at 9:30 a.m. at the College of the Ozarks in the Sweet 16 round of the NAIA Division II National Tournament.
"We came here to beat the best," Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross said following his team’s opening round win Wednesday over Oregon Tech, "and to compete for a national championship. To do that, we knew the road was going to go through Cornerstone."
Which it often has.The two squads have battled on this stage three times in the past eight seasons and the Golden Eagles have won the past two times.
In the 2015 tournament, Cornerstone knocked off Saint Francis 75-64 in the Elite Eight. Cornerstone also beat the Cougars in LaCross’ first season of leading the program (2010-11) in the national championship game.
Saint Francis was going for back-to-back titles that season, but fell in that title game 80-71.
"They are an unbelievable program," LaCross said. "They have had a lot of history."
Saint Francis did beat Cornerstone in the Elite Eight round (79-73) en route to its 2010 national championship, which is the lone title won in the Cougars’ men’s basketball history.
LaCross has lost four of his five games played against Cornerstone in his seven seasons of leading the program, with the lone victory coming in November of 2011 (a 78-61 Cougar win).
The last time that the two teams met was November of 2015 and the Golden Eagles prevailed 61-50.
One Midwest-based NAIA coach that is familiar with both programs gave The News-Sentinel an anonymous scouting report for dealing with the Golden Eagles.
"Kyle Steigenga," the coach said when asked ‘What are Cornerstone’s strengths.’
"I think he is one of the best players, if not the best player in the country at our level."
The 6-foot-6 junior averages over 21 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game and shoots over 62 percent from the field.
But he is not alone.
"They’ve got a bunch of good players around him," the coach said, "in (forward) Cory Cox and (guard) Michael McLaughlin. McLaughlin is a great senior leader. He is the point guard for them and does a good job of getting them into their stuff and he is very, very good defensively.
"He runs the show for them."
The coach then had an interesting analogy to exhibit just how troublesome playing Cornerstone can be.
"I would compare Cornerstone to a group of guys that meet up at the YMCA every Friday morning and play," the coach explained. "They just play really good basketball. They understand how to read screens and make it very hard for you to guard it. If you guard the screen one way, they are going to counter it back the other way and I don’t think a lot of teams are great at that anymore, but they are one of them.
"They make it very hard to guard their motion actions."
Despite the difficulty that Cornerstone presents, the coach said he believes that the Cougars have a very legitimate chance for success.
"I think Saint Francis matches up well with them," the coach said, "with their two bigs, Kyle Sovine and Bryce Lienhoop, and then Perry Poindexter off the bench. I don’t think Saint Francis will have to play a perfect game, by any means at all, but they do have to be disciplined if they take bad shots.
"If Saint Francis isn’t locked in defensively, Cornerstone is going to make them pay."