JOLIET – After getting off to a bit of a slow start Saturday, the University of St. Francis men’s basketball team was in control throughout much of its Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference game against Olivet Nazarene.
But games between the two teams usually feature some drama, and the meeting at the Pat Sullivan Center was no exception. The Saints hit a dry spell and saw a 16-point lead dwindle to six points before they regrouped and managed to capture an 80-73 victory.
Coach Ryan Marks’ Saints improved to 9-2 overall and 3-1 in the CCAC. It was also the fourth win in a row for USF, which had five players who reached double figures.
“When you think of a vintage Olivet-St. Francis game, that was certainly in that mold,” Marks said. “It was a physical and hard-played game with momentum swings. I thought that both teams played well. But they’ll go back, and we’ll go back and look at a few things that we both can do better. But I thought that it was a pretty good college basketball game.
“We have a fun group, and we have a lot of depth. It’s interesting when you have that,” Marks said. “We have a lot of solid guys, so the averages are in your favor that if even one or two guys are off, some other guys are going to play well, and we got some contributions where we needed them. We’ve played a large number of close games, and in many cases the depth, whether it being from a conditioning standpoint or just finding some guys who are going that night, has helped us win some close ones.”
Cole Micek led the Saints with
17 points, six rebounds and four assists. Other leaders for USF were Jorden Thornton (16 points), Terrion Howard (12 points), Malik Bailey (10 points), Lewis Holey (10 points) and Pietro Badalassi (11 rebounds).
Things were looking great for USF after it took the last of its 16-point leads at 60-44 with 8:01 remaining. But the Tigers used an 11-1 run and kept the Saints from making a basket for a span of 5:25 to close to within 61-55 with 4:28 to go following six points from Nic Reed, who had a huge game with 24 points and 14 rebounds.
But the Saints responded to the threat with a 3-pointer from Badalassi and three free throws from Howard to take a 70-59 lead with only 1:05 left in the game, and Olivet was unable to get any closer than six points back after that.
Olivet still owned a 23-16 lead with 7:27 left in the first half, but USF used an 18-6 run to take a 34-29 lead into the intermission. In the third quarter, the Saints gradually started to take control as back-to-back 3-pointers by Reilly Goulet and Thornton made it 56-40 with 11:04 remaining in the game before the Tigers started to make their comeback.
“I thought it was a great game on our end and Olivet’s end,” Micek said. “We know that Olivet is a great team, and we respect them really well going into the game. We knew that if we got up on them that they would make a run back, so we just had to stay solid as a team and keep getting stops, and I thought we had some pretty good stops at the end.
“We’re really starting to play our best basketball right now, and we’re playing as a team and really playing together. Coach Marks talks about how we really want to play for each other. We see our depth as a blessing and we have such good chemistry since we all hang out together. This has been a good start for us, and we’re going to keep getting better.”
The Saints return to action when they host Lewis University at 7 p.m. Wednesday.