For some teams in the Crossroads League Tournament, the Saint Francis men’s basketball squad could unleash its new weapon with some degree of surprise, however, in the Cougars’ tournament semifinal Saturday at Indiana Wesleyan (3 p.m.), that definitely won’t be the case.
No. 15-ranked ranked Saint Francis (22-9) will battle the 5th-ranked Wildcats (25-6) and freshman guard Connor Lautzenheiser will be a central focus of the Indiana Wesleyan defensive game plan.
“He just plays so hard,” veteran Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross said of Lautzenheiser. “He is a competitor. He is one that doesn’t let a bad play affect him.”
Not that Lautzenheiser has made many “bad plays” of late.
After being used sparingly through much of this season, LaCross made the decision in late January to utilize that competitiveness for a team that was struggling and the decision has proven to be a smart one.
“Honestly,” LaCross admitted, “we gave some guys opportunities at the beginning of the season and probably held Connor back for quite awhile there. Finally, we said that we had to put him out there.”
Lautzenheiser played double figure minutes in just seven of the Cougars’ initial 17 games, but has now done so in 10 straight games. And his production has warranted that streak continuing.
LaCross played the 6-foot-2 Convoy, Ohio native 16 minutes in a loss at Crossroads League champion Bethel to start the streak, a game which was the Cougars’ fourth straight defeat. Since then, Saint Francis has won seven of nine games and Lautzenheiser has averaged 17 points per game in the last five games.
“We know that he is going to make some mistakes,” LaCross said, “but we can live with those because of the way he competes. He attacks offensively and he shoots the ball very well.”
Lautzenheiser certainly did that in a recent game against the Wildcats.
In that game earlier this month, Lautzenheiser scored a game-high 27 points by making 10 of his 14 shots, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range.
Shockingly, he missed seven free throws in the 11-point Cougar loss. However, just as LaCross noted that the youngster doesn’t allow a bad play to impact him mentally, Lautzenheiser hasn’t allowed that performance at the free throw line to linger on.
Since that outing, he has made 11 of 13 free throws.
“He doesn’t allow negative plays affect the way he continues to go about his business,” LaCross repeated. “That is why he has been so good and will continue to be good. He is in the gym every single day. He is always working on his game outside of practice. He has put a lot of time in and it has paid off for him.”
LaCross saw the competitiveness in bits during the recruitment of Lautzenheiser, but he really discovered his work ethic and mental toughness in early practices.
The Cougar coaches were playing other guys ahead of Lautzenheiser and instead of allowing that to affect him emotionally, Lautzenheiser viewed it as a challenge to overcome.
“We weren’t sure if that competitiveness would translate right away,” LaCross admitted. “The biggest thing with an incoming freshman is ‘Will they back down?’ Connor won’t back down to anybody.”
Indiana Wesleyan knows that, and soon the rest of the Crossroads League will, as well.