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'Cats beat St. Francis in overtime

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Just when it seems the Indiana Wesleyan-Saint Francis men’s basketball rivalry couldn’t get any better, along comes Saturday afternoon’s game and raises it to yet another level.

A game with a little bit of everything from a raucous capacity crowd to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that sent it into overtime came down to a sensational performance from a diaper dandy.

Behind 40 points from freshman guard Kyle Mangas, the NAIA Division II seventh-ranked Wildcats pulled out an 89-82 victory over the No. 2 Cougars in front of nearly 2,000 frenzied fans in Luckey Arena. Mangas came within four points of Bruce Smith’s single game record set in 1991.

“It was a special day,” IWU coach Greg Tonagel said. “It was one of our best crowds ever and energy they gave us was huge. It shows up somewhere in the stat sheets and I’m very thankful for our students and our community.”

The Wildcats held a five-point lead in the waning seconds of regulation, but St. Francis rallied and a desperation 3-pointer from Derek Hinen sent the game into overtime tied 73-all.

“That’s the thing I’m most proud of — we responded after (the 3-point basket),” Tonagel said. “It would have been easy to hang our heads and play what-if scenarios, but we bounced back and I think that says something about the trust in our locker room.

“When we went to the huddle nobody was mad, nobody was second guessing and we trusted in each other we were going to make the next play,” Tonagel added. “We couldn’t go back and change the previous play; we just had to do something with the next play.”

IWU (15-5, 6-2) needed the win to remain within hailing distance of Saint Francis (17-3, 7-1) in the Crossroads League race. The Cougars still maintain a one-game lead in the standings over the ‘Cats, who won for the fifth straight time over the Cougars and lead the all-time series 54-48.

Mangas scored the ‘Cats’ final 21 points of regulation, and his 3-point basket in overtime with the 30-second shot set to expire made it 85-80 with 43.6 seconds to play. The Indiana All-Star from Warsaw scored 33 points in the second half and overtime.

“I just tried to stay aggressive,” Mangas said. “The first half I wasn’t really hitting shots, but I have a mindset to stay aggressive no matter what and keep shooting no matter what and I think it worked.”

What impressed Tonagel about Mangas’ performance was his efficiency. Mangas connected on 13-of-22 shots and was 10-of-13 in the second half and overtime. At the foul line, Mangas hit on 11-of-12 and his lone miss on his final attempt ended a streak of 21 consecutive made free throws.

“He’s fun to watch and a joy to coach,” Tonagel said of Mangas. “He’s a special talent, but the thing is he does it in the flow and he plays with his teammates. There’s very few kids who can score like he did without the volume (of shots) that it normally takes.”

Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross was impressed with how Mangas made two of the biggest shots in the game - the overtime 3-pointer and a contested pull-up jump that made it 82-79 with 1:43 left in overtime.

“If he plays like that he’s as good as anybody in the country — if not the best player in the country,” LaCross said. “It was probably his career game, to this point, and he has 40 on us and we lose in overtime so we just got to do better job on him.

“But late, Evan Henry did a great job of great job of forcing him into a tough 15-foot baseline jumper and he hits that. Then we switch a ball screen and Steven Turner gets switched on him he hits an incredible ‘3’ over Steve. Those are huge plays and they went in and they got the win because of them.”

A game with 16 lead changes and 11 ties, IWU set the tone early with some of its best defense play of the season and led 31-27 at the end of a low-scoring opening half. St. Francis shot 31.8 percent from the floor (7-of-22) and top scorer Bryce Leinhoop was limited to two points.

Lienhoop, a leading Crossroads League Player of the Year candidate, scored just eight points before the 6-foot-6 post fouled out in overtime. Hinen picked up the slack with 26 points on a dazzling array of one-on-one drives to the basket and put the Cougars on top down the stretch.

“We got a number of guys who can get it done and (Hinen) made some big plays,” LaCross said. “Obviously, Bryce didn’t have his best game, but he’ll bounce back and come back strong. In three-and-a-half years of basketball at Saint Francis you can always count on him.”

Trailing 73-68 with 18.8 seconds left in regulation, Saint Francis scored on a Bryce Leinhoop layup and then double-teamed Mangas on the inbounds and got the ball back on the held ball. Hunter Hollowell’s forced 3-pointer was off the mark, but the Cougars chased down the loose ball and Hinen hit an off-balance ‘3’ just ahead of the buzzer and send the game into overtime tied at 73-all.

“Our guys are not going to quit,” LaCross said. “We’re going to try to fight and claw and scrap to put ourselves in a position to win, and that’s what I love about this group.”

IWU also scrapped back after falling behind 66-62 with 2:09 to play following four straight empty possessions. A Mangas 3-point play on a drive to the basket gave IWU a 67-66 lead with 1:16 to play. Grant Smith then intercepted Leinhoop’s pass out of the double team and fed Mangas for a layup in transition that extended the advantage to 69-66 with 50 seconds remaining.

Evan Maxwell contributed 14 points and Jacob Johnson 12 for the ‘Cats, who shot 17-of-27 from the field in the second half (63 percent). Mangas had four of their nine 3-point baskets, and IWU made 22-of-29 free throws to help secure the win.

Chandler White, a transfer from NCAA Division I Toledo, scored 20 for St. Francis and Hollowell had 10 off the bench.

Mark DeMichael, IWU athletic director, said Saturday’s crowd was probably one of the three biggest ever at Lucky Arena but the noise level was the highest.

“That was fun,” Mangas said. “The atmosphere in here — every seat was taken and it was packed and an awesome game all the way around.”

LaCross said it was kind of game that’s becoming expected between the two schools.

“It was a great atmosphere and a great college basketball game from start to finish,” LaCross said. “Any player wants to play in this type of environment, and I feel like (IWU) has been so good for so long and we’ve been so good for so long so we kind of bring out the best in each other.”