FORT WAYNE – Same show. Different showtime.
Three nights after Skylarr Shurn and Jenelle Wilson chased Marian offstage with a ringing duet, Saint Francis’ tuneful backcourt was at it again Monday night. This time they scored 18 of the Cougars’ first 20 points to put rival Indiana Wesleyan firmly in their wake, then went on to combine for 50 points, nine rebounds, six assists and eight steals as NAIA No. 1 Saint Francis (33-0) took down Wesleyan (26-7) for the third time this year, 75-63, in the Crossroads League championship game.
It was the Cougars’ second straight conference title and their seventh straight win in a championship game played in the Hutzell Athletic Center – and it was ignited once again by Shurn and Wilson, who combined for 54 points in a semifinal blowout of Marian.
“I thought they were awesome,” Saint Francis coach Gary Andrews said. “This was probably even better than the Marian game, because they’re the No. 1 defensive team in the country. And to score 75 points, that’s unbelievable going up against a team like that.”
Shurn finished with 27 points, two rebounds, four assists and six steals; Wilson had 23, seven, two and two; and Brooke Ridley added 11 points and nine boards. The Cougars outrebounded Wesleyan 35-22, outscored the Wildcats 36-28 in the paint and 15-10 off turnovers, and never trailed after Wilson twisted inside for a layup 13 seconds into the game.
“I think Sky is a great player, and I think that definitely these last few games … these our last few games ever, we’re both seniors,” Wilson said. “:I think we just play with all our hearts. The whole team has so many weapons, and it just works. We just give the ball to each other and try to get it close, and it works out well.”
That was especially true coming out of the gate.
With Shurn and Wilson providing the fuel, the Cougars blew out to an 8-2 lead and expanded it to 20-11 on Shurn’s steal and layup at 9:58 of the first half.
Wesleyan got that down to 20-15, but then the Cougars took off again, scoring 15 of the next 20 points to run the lead to 35-20 on Emily Montgomery’s 3 out of the corner at 3:05.
Wesleyan was not about to go away so easily, however.
The Wildcats replied by scoring the last seven points of the half, and it was 35-27 at the break. They got the lead down to five three times, the last time at 67-62 with 1:54 to play.
But Wilson answered with a cold-blooded jumper from just inside the arc, and Shurn and Bri Rinehart knocked down free throws, and the final threat was turned away.
“I think it was huge,” Andrews said of his team’s fast start. “It maybe put a seed in their mind that ‘Uh-oh, here we go again, we’re playing the No. 1 team, they’ve already beat us twice.’ And I thought it gave our kids confidence.
“To be able to play the whole game ahead. … Even when they made a run we still had that cushion and we didn’t panic. We were able to find a way to hold on.”
The Cougars will learn who they play in the NAIA Division II national tournament Wednesday.