This is not quite instant replay. Just close enough.
A year ago, the script read this way: No. 1 seed Indiana Wesleyan, No. 2 seed Saint Francis, Crossroads League championship game, at Wesleyan.
Tonight, it’s No. 1 seed Saint Francis, No. 3 seed Indiana Wesleyan, Crossroads League championship game … at Saint Francis.
All that’s different, substantially, are the GPS coordinates.
“They know what we’re gonna do, we know what they’re gonna do, so it’s just gonna be about some players making some plays,” Saint Francis coach Gary Andrews says.
“They’re gonna bring their best game, and hopefully we’ll bring our best game, and we’ll be ready for ’em,” Cougars guard Skylarr Shurn says.
And, yes, that is the constant meme between Wesleyan and the Cougars, who’ll be going for their second straight conference tournament title and 11th overall. Six times they’ve played Wesleyan for the title; the Cougars have won three times and Wesleyan three times, never by more than nine points.
Which gets back to those GPS coordinates.
“Yeah, we’ve been pretty good at home the last few years,” Andrews says.
A hefty understatement, to say the least. The Cougars have lost only one conference tournament game at home in 20 years; they’re 15-0 in first-round games, 12-0 in semifinals and 8-1 in title games, the lone loss coming against Taylor in 1998.
“We’d rather play at home than have to drive down to Marion,” Andrews says. “So it will be nice to have our home fans. Yeah, we’ll be fired up for it.”
It is, after all, Wesleyan, with whom the Cougars have developed the fiercest of rivalries primarily because of their respective statures nationally. Both schools were ranked in the NAIA top 10 nationally a year ago, when the Cougars knocked off top-ranked Wesleyan at Wesleyan for the conference title. Both schools are ranked in the top 10 again this year – Saint Francis at No. 1 and 32-0, Wesleyan at No. 10 and 26-6.
That Saint Francis has handled Wesleyan twice this year, by nine at home and six on the road, doesn’t diminish the task ahead given how well the two teams know each other.
“I think that’s always difficult,” Shurn says. “They’re a well-coached team, and we know we’re gonna have to be ready on Monday.”
Andrews agrees. “I’m sure it’ll be a barnburner,” he says. “It’ll probably be a lower scoring game just because they’re great defensively and they’re probably gonna slow it down.”