PUC halts Cougars women’s win streak
One week later, another string got snapped.
St. Xavier University’s men’s basketball team saw a 17-game unbeaten streak come to an end on Feb. 1, when Cardinal Stritch scored its second victory of the year over the Cougars. SXU’s women, however, cleared the Stritch hurdle that same day and brought with them into last week a lengthy win skein of their own.
Undefeated since the end of November, the female Cougars’ 16-game run of excellence might have been enough to psychologically overwhelm some foes. Purdue University Calumet players, however, were not fazed by NAIA Division II No. 6-ranked SXU.
And the No. 18 Peregrines proved it by stopping the Cougars cold, 84-72, in a Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference matchup last Wednesday at the Shannon Center. SXU fell despite double-double efforts from Morgan Stuut (15 points, 12 rebounds) and Caitlin McMahon (10 points, 15 rebounds).
Too many fouls and turnovers plagued the Cougars. PUC took advantage of 25 SXU infractions to go 31-of-40 at the free-throw line, and the visitors also racked up 16 points off 19 Cougars miscues.
“We still haven’t found a way to defense the free throw,” SXU coach Bob Hallberg said. “They had 31 free throws and we had just 16. We haven’t been able to stop that against Purdue Calumet.
“Again, it’s a broken record I’ve been saying for three years. We just can’t make up the points sometimes.”
The setback got Hallberg to rethink some of his ideas regarding use of bench players and consider giving more minutes to senior guard Niara Harris in an attempt to bolster backcourt scoring.
“Morgan doesn’t have to score 30 [points] every night,” Hallberg said. “Morgan and Suzie [Broski] scored 15 and 14 points [versus the Peregrines], but we have to get more scoring out of our guard positions. To be successful, we need that over the next four games as we head into the playoffs — for someone to be able to knock down 16-to-18 points a game and take some of the pressure off Morgan and Suzie.
“I just think down the stretch I’m going to have to shorten my bench and give Niara more minutes. I’m rotating a lot of guards, and none of them are weak players. But with Niara being productive with 14 minutes a game, I’m going to have to increase that [court time] so that she can double her offensive productivity.
“I have to do something. I don’t like having to adjust because my guards have been solid and do everything they’re asked to do, but Naira is capable of providing the offense that we desperately need.”
Senior forward Chrissy Heine gave the Cougars one more double-digit scorer with 10 points off the bench, to go along with six rebounds.
Despite decent input from a quartet of players, SXU fell behind by as many as 13 points in the first half and trailed PUC 43-32 at intermission. The Cougars reduced their deficit to five points several times during the second half, but the Peregrines were able to rebuff every challenge.
“You can have a bad day against a bad team and still win, but a bad night on Wednesday against a good team — we couldn’t overcome that,” Hallberg said. “We weren’t on our ‘A’ game and Purdue Calumet is a very good team.
“They don’t have a lot of depth, but they have five starters who play the whole game, and all of them scored in double figures against us. They present some matchup problems for us [because] there’s not one [player] who is a soft touch offensively.”
The pain of defeat didn’t linger, as the Cougars (22-4, 12-2) buried Judson University 90-56 on Saturday behind 24 points and seven rebounds from Stuut and double-digit scoring from three other players: Harris (14 points, three steals), Broski (12 points, six rebounds) and McMahon (10 points, five rebounds).
SXU never trailed as it built a 30-15 first-half edge. It was ahead 42-28 at intermission, and 52 percent accuracy over the last 20 minutes enabled the Cougars to balloon their lead to 40 points at one juncture.
Interestingly, the win put SXU back atop the CCAC standings, thanks to upsets of PUC and Stritch that were staged by Indiana University-South Bend and Robert Morris University, respectively, that same day.
“It’s the strange world of basketball in the CCAC,” Hallberg said. “But we all know that the teams who are out of contention at this point of the season can be the most dangerous because they play loose and have nothing to lose.
“We have two home games and two road games left before the postseason, and we have to take care of business.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that Hallberg will necessarily stick to the status quo.
“When you’re rolling along in a season like we have been having at 22-4, why make changes?” he said. “The postseason, though, is a whole different season and you have to go with your best players.” — Anthony Nasella
Cardinal Stritch certainly did the Cougars’ future opponents no favor.
When the NAIA Division II top-ranked Wolves stopped SXU’s 17-game winning streak and relieved it of a first-place share within the CCAC, some people may have figured on the Cougars being slow to recover from the disappointment. As both Purdue University Calumet and Judson University learned last week, housing such a thought was seriously misguided.
Not only did the Cougars bounce back smartly with a pair of wins, but neither the Peregrines nor Eagles were in the same area code as SXU by game’s end. PUC fell first, by a 90-61 count last Wednesday in Chicago.
Cougars coach Tom O’Malley wasn’t anticipating an even easier time for his team on Saturday in Elgin, especially with Judson fresh off a road upset of Robert Morris.
“That was [probably] the best win in their history,” he said of the Eagles.
And that win was followed by a crushing loss, courtesy of SXU. The Cougars scored 15 of the game’s first 21 points, staked themselves to a hefty 44-22 advantage by halftime and stretched their lead out to an eye-popping 54 points during the second half before sewing up a 94-43 triumph.
“We usually can score a lot of points, but on Saturday we probably played the best defense we’ve played all year,” O’Malley said. “I thought our pressure was better, and that’s something we’ve got to build on. [Even] when you don’t shoot well, defense can be consistent.”
Besides Judson’s rather meager point total, a couple other statistics stood out as testimonies to SXU’s dominance without the ball. The Cougars held the Eagles to a 29 percent success rate from the floor and forced 16 turnovers, nine of which came directly off SXU steals.
Jack Krieger accounted for one-third of those thefts, and he complemented his defensive prowess with 14 points. Krieger was one of four double-figure scorers for the Cougars, along with Brad Karp (26 points, six rebounds), Josh Mawhorr (19 points, 11 rebounds) and Michael Simpson (10 points).
Mawhorr included five 3-point buckets among his output, and he and Karp shot a combined 17-of-28. Overall, No. 5-ranked SXU (23-3, 13-2) made good on 57 percent of its field-goal tries.
“Between Simpson, Brad and Jack Krieger, that’s three guys [opponents] have to guard,” O’Malley said. “And Josh Mawhorr has been playing much better for us, which presents another problem for them.”
The Cougars’ impressive show of strength and ability to shrug off the difficult defeat versus Stritch may have caught many off-guard, but not O’Malley.
“The main point I try to make is, when you lose a game you can’t be pessimistic,” he said. “You have to stay positive. We didn’t play badly against Cardinal Stritch; we were just unfortunate in the later part of the game.”
Truth be known, O’Malley advises his guys to always ignore everything that came before, whether good or bad.
“We never look back, only ahead at the next game,” he said.
For SXU, that meant forgetting quickly the rout of Judson and preparing for Robert Morris, which visited the Shannon Center this past Wednesday. The Cougars face Trinity International University in Deerfield on Saturday.
“I like the idea of [playing] all conference games in January and February,” O’Malley said. “You’re in more of a rhythm — you get your practice schedule set, play on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and can give kids Sundays off, which I like to do.”
St. Xavier 90
Purdue Calumet 61
The Peregrines own a record well over .500, but that made no difference to the Cougars, who treated PUC roughly last Wednesday.
Just as it was to do against Judson, SXU used a combination of good shooting and solid defense to topple the Peregrines. On this occasion, that meant 59 percent marksmanship, 24 assists and 20 PUC turnovers, 11 of which were produced by Cougars steals.
Simpson (26 points, 11 assists), Karp (24 points) and Krieger (20) were the ringleaders for SXU, which constructed a 14-3 edge five minutes into the game and was ahead by as many as 17 points during the first half before settling for a 45-30 advantage at the break. The Cougars’ biggest lead was 32 points in the second half. — Ken Karrson
Twelve kills from senior outside hitter Justin Cousin and nine more, plus two service aces, from sophomore middle blocker Sam Kull lifted the Cougars to their first victory of the season on Saturday. SXU defeated Siena Heights (Mich.) University 25-20, 25-12, 28-26 to gain a weekend split.
The Cougars dropped a 25-16, 15-25, 25-20, 25-18 Great Lakes Division verdict to Lourdes (Ohio) University on Friday. Cousin was also a principal figure for SXU (1-8, 1-2) in the loss as he totaled nine kills and a pair of block assists.
Besides Cousin and Kull, the Cougars’ win was made possible by contributions from freshman outside hitter Sean Barry (seven kills, four aces), right-side hitter Jacob Siska (eight kills, four assisted blocks) and freshman setter Moises Lopez (37 assists). SXU put down 41 kills as a team and registered a .310 attack percentage.
Barry (seven kills, two aces), Lopez (23 assists, one ace) and senior middle blocker J.T. O’Connell (five kills, four assisted blocks) were other standouts versus Lourdes.
The Cougars hosted No. 10-ranked Cardinal Stritch this past Tuesday.
Cougars coach Mike Feminis announced the signing of three more prep players from the Chicagoland area on National Signing Day last week. Joining SXU in the fall will be Joliet Catholic Academy safety Jackson Shanklin, Crete-Monee defensive lineman Rudolfo Antuna and Steinmetz linebacker Anthony Kowalczyk.
“Time will tell, but this could be the best recruiting class in the history of our program,” Feminis said. “To get Jackson now after already signing the other three Joliet Catholic players [Mike Ivlow, Jalen Hansel and Justin Hunter] is unbelievable. He is a tall, rangy safety who plays with an edge and will bring toughness and physicality to our secondary.
“Rudy is a big, thick, strong interior lineman, who is very similar to [current SXU player] Josh Wallick. He uses his hands well and will be difficult for any offensive lineman to move. Rudy is physically ready to play and should compete right away.
“Anthony played middle linebacker in high school, but we feel his future will be as a defensive end. We like his size and he moves really well for a big guy, so it will be interesting to see how he develops over the next year or two.”