Marcus Taliaferro, Athletics Communication Assistant
JOLIET – The University of St. Francis men’s basketball team used a 50% shooting mark in the second half to send them to an 85-77 victory against Mount Vernon Nazarene Tuesday afternoon in the opening round of the USF New Year’s Classic at the Sullivan Center.
The Saints (6-2) fell behind early trailing early after a layup from Mt. Vernon Nazarene’s Javon Knox put the Cougars ahead 19-9 with 13:15 left to the go in the half. Despite the early setback, the Saints crawled back into the game after a layup from Reihana Maxwell-Topia (Fr/Aukland, New Zealand) gave the Saints a 24-22 advantage and their first lead of the game. Senior guard Eric Ting (Sr/Taoyuan, Taiwan) would nail a couple of three-point field goals and push the Saints to a five-point lead (39-35) with 2:17 to go in the half. The first-half would end with a buzzer-beating layup from Foward Lewis Holey (Sr/Sydney, Australia) as the Saints went into halftime leading the Cougars, 44-37.
USF finished the first-half shooting 16-36 (44%), 50% (6-12) from beyond the arch, and finished the half shooting 44% from the free-throw line. The lead changed five times in the first-half with the Saints recovering from deficits as large as 10 and seven. The ten-point lead was the largest lead of the Cougars who shot 50% from the field in the first half.
The Saints never looked back in this game as they held onto the lead until the finish. USF, who connected on five second-half three-point field goals, lead by 15 points on four separate occasions in the half. Carter Fayhee(Jr/Macomb, Ill) contributed to the victory with a couple of clutch shots towards the end of the game. With the Saints up 8 with 3:57 left to go in the game, Fayhee connected on a clutch three-point shot to give the Saints a 79-68 lead with 3:25 left to go in the game. Fayhee knocked down another clutch three-point field goal giving the Saints an 84-70 advantage with 1:46 left to go in the game and allowed the Saints to comfortably close out the game.
Deandre Johnson(Sr/ Watts, Calif) led the Saints offense with 17 points (6-8 FG, 5-6) in 21 minutes of play in a game that saw four total Saint players in double figures. Right behind Johnson in scoring was guard Carlos Tovias( Corsicana, TX) who contributed to 12 of the 40 bench points scored by the Saints. Eric Ting finished with 11 points and made a nice defensive contribution providing the Saints with four of their 10 total steals. Russel Tillery(Sr/Portland Oregon) knocked down 10 total points and tied for a game-leading five assists with Carter Fayhee.
As a team, The Saints would outrebound the Cougars, 37-35, including an 11-6 advantage on the offensive end. Lewis Holey led the team with nine rebounds and Carter Fayhee followed behind him with seven rebounds. The Saints scored 21 points off of 14 forced Cougar Turnovers. The Saints finished the game shooting 46% (30-64) from the field, 11-21 (52%) from beyond the arch, and 66%(14-21) from the free-throw line.
Guard Jevon Knox finished the game with 28 points and was one of four Cougars who scored in double figures for Mt. Vernon Nazarene. Kade Ruegsegger provided 16 points while Clay Hilliard and Eric McLaughlin both provided 10 points. The Cougars fall to 2-4 on the year and prepare to go up against Holy Cross in their second New Year’s Classic game.
The Saints are looking for an upset on Wednesday when they take on the No. 16 nationally-ranked Faulkner Eagles in the final game of the USF New Year’s Classic. A 3 p.m. tip-off time is scheduled at the Sullivan Center.