Early in St. Francis University’s basketball season, Bryce Lienhoop had a tendency to get in foul trouble, which limited his minutes on the floor. As a result, the Cougars struggled to a 1-2 start.
The Columbus East graduate has alleviated that problem, and Fort Wayne-based St. Francis has benefited. With Lienhoop leading the way, the Cougars won 12 of 13 and eight in a row, including Saturday’s 87-75 upset of NAIA Division II fourth-ranked Marian.
“Bryce is a big part of why we’re on an eight-game winning streak and playing so well,” St. Francis coach Chad LaCross said. “Even though he’s put up big numbers, he’s really unselfish. He passes the ball well.”
Against previously unbeaten Marian, Lienhoop scored a career-high 24 points and had 12 rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots. That came on the heels of a 23-point, eight-rebound, three-assist, two-block performance in an 86-75 win at Concordia.
For his efforts in those two games, Lienhoop was named Crossroads League Player of the Week for the first time in his career.
“It’s a great honor to be named player of the week, but I have to give thanks to all my teammates to get me in position to do what I do,” Lienhoop said. “I think I need to do a little bit better at defense and rebounding.”
The 6-foot-6 sophomore leads the Cougars with 14.2 points and 1.0 blocks a game and is second on the team with 8.4 rebounds. He is third on the squad with 0.8 steals and fourth with 2.1 assists.
Seven games into the season, Lienhoop was shooting 47 percent from the field. He has improved that to 58 percent, which ranks 22nd in the country in NAIA Division II.
“He just started finishing real well and playing with a lot of confidence,” LaCross said. “We feel like we can win a lot of games with him playing as well as he is. His best basketball is ahead. He just keeps getting better and better.”
Meanwhile, two other players from Columbus have played big roles in St. Francis’ 13-3 start. Evan Henry, a sophomore guard from Columbus North, has started all 16 games and ranks fourth on the team with 11.1 points a game.
Henry, who scored a season-high 20 points in the win at Concordia, is shooting 44.8 percent from 3-point range and leads the team with 48 3-pointers.
“He’s had some big games,” LaCross said. “He stretches the defense. You have to guard him on the perimeter. Against Marian on Saturday, he did a great job of keeping some balls alive.”
Connor Umphress, a freshman from East, has played in 12 games and is averaging 3.8 points.
“Connor is coming along,” LaCross said. “He’s just a freshman on a really good team. But he’s betting better. He’s going to see the floor more as we go along during the season.”
The Cougars are tied with Marian and defending champion Indiana Wesleyan atop the Crossroads League with 3-1 records.
“Our team is really clicking right now,” Lienhoop said. “Winning against Marian was big. It gives us a better chance to win the league down the road.”
Name: Bryce Lienhoop
High school: Columbus East
College: St. Francis
Key stats: 14.2 points per game, 8.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1 blocked shot per game, 58 field-goal percentage, 72.6 free-throw percentage