FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WFFT) – The No. 20 University of Saint Francis Cougars (13-2; 1-2 Crossroads) resumed Crossroads League play when they hosted the RV Bethel University Pilots (12-2; 4-1 Crossroads) Monday evening in Hutzell Athletic Center, and despite a strong effort fell 79-77 as Dan McKeeman's three-point buzzer-beater fell just short.
The Cougars got off to a strong start as they jumped out to a 10-4 lead less than four minutes into the game, but the Pilots quickly responded going on a 6-0 run to tie the score. The next several minutes saw a back and forth battle between both teams, and although the Pilots' leading scorer posted 16 points in the first half, the Cougars maintained their lead going into halftime, leading 37-36.
In the first half, Cougars junior Antwaan Cushingberry had a team-leading 11 points with four rebounds.
As the second half got underway, both teams picked up where they left off exchanging shot after shot. It was evident early on in the frame that the game was going right down to the wire. Early on in the half, Cougars sophomore David Ejah scored five consecutive points to put Saint Francis ahead 49-44, but the lead evaporated within the next minute and a half as the Pilots scored a layup and a three in consecutive posessions to deadlock the score once again.
The score remained a five-point margin or less the entire second half.
A couple costly turnovers by the Cougars late in the frame allowed the Pilots to capitalize and built a small lead of their own. In the final minutes of the game, the Cougars were trailing by just one when the Pilots sank a three-point basket to go ahead 77-73 in the final two minutes of play. The Cougars made one last push to tie the score again with consecutive free throws made and a layup, but a foul outside of the three-point line with two seconds left allowed the Pilots to take three free throws in which two of them were made.
Cougars sophomore Dan McKeeman got the ball in the corner and shot for a three as the buzzer sounded, but the ball hit off the rim and fell short.
"We didn't take advantage of some of the mistakes that they made defensively," Head Coach Chad LaCross said. "We never really forced them to defend action and we never got much movement so I thought that was the theme for tonight where I just thought it hurt us and we've got to get better at spacing the floor."
The Cougars went just 8-for-30 from beyond the three-point line Monday evening.
Throughout the game, the Cougars shot 44 percent from the floor, 27 percent from beyond the three-point line, and 76 percent from the free throw line. Cushingberry led the team in scoring with 20 points and also had a couple steals and three assists to his credit. Ejah and junior Jalan Mull both scored in double-digits as well each with 16 points while Ejah also led the team with 14 rebounds.
"I thought we defended really well tonight, and to not get the win at home hurts. We will have to have the same focus defensively and hopefully we're able to clean up on the offensive end."
The Cougars resume conference play on Wednesday evening when they play host to the Huntington University Foresters (9-3; 2-2 Crossroads) in Hutzell Athletic Center beginning at 7:00 pm ET.