Cougars women shift into high gear
St. Xavier University is saving its best for last.
At least that’s the way coach Bob Hallberg’s women made it look last week. As the regular season nears its end, the Cougars are beginning to assert themselves in impressive fashion.
A loss to Purdue University Calumet the week before that broke a 16-game unbeaten streak was long forgotten after SXU pummeled both Robert Morris and Trinity International universities in two more Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference encounters. First, the NAIA Division II No. 6-ranked Cougars blasted the Eagles 90-62 on Wednesday and then they ran roughshod over the Trojans, 94-50, in a Saturday tilt.
The dual wins allowed SXU (24-4, 15-2) to maintain its grip on the top spot in the CCAC standings.
“We’re on a roll, both defensively and offensively, right now,” Hallberg said. “Winning our last two games by 28 and 44 points [means] we’re clicking on all cylinders on both sides of the ball heading into the final week of the regular season.
“With a 24-4 record and at least a No. 6 national ranking, I think we’re playing our best basketball at the right time. We’re getting a lot of solid contributions off the bench, [and] Morgan [Stuut] and Suzie [Broski] continue to be solid.
“It would be great if we could finish the regular season playing this kind of basketball.”
Stuut led the way for the Cougars versus Robert Morris with a double-double of 29 points and 18 rebounds. The latter total gave the junior forward 1,015 boards in her collegiate career and made her SXU’s first female player to ever eclipse the 1,000 plateau.
Broski contributed 20 points and six rebounds for the Cougars, who shot a sizzling 59 percent from the floor in the first half and established a 22-point cushion by the break. Also lending a hand were Jordan Brandt (15 points, three steals) and Caitlin McMahon (nine points, 15 rebounds, six assists).
As a team, SXU out-rebounded the Eagles 60-42 for the game. The visitors connected on only 30 percent of their field-goal attempts and were also victimized by 13 Cougars steals.
Robert Morris’ only lead was at 2-0, and it trailed 21-9 at the 11-minute mark of the first half and then by the aforementioned 22-point margin at halftime after Stuut converted a three-point play. It was more of the same for the Eagles when play resumed, as SXU extended its advantage to 35 points (73-38) on Broski’s jumper with 12:30 remaining.
What especially pleased Hallberg about his team’s conquest was that it vanquished a foe that was riding high. Robert Morris had just scored a road win over Cardinal Stritch University, which is responsible for one of the Cougars’ setbacks to date.
“Robert Morris was feeling good about itself,” Hallberg said. “We always have had a tough time against Cardinal Stritch and Robert Morris had a 20-point lead against them, which is something we’ve never been able to accomplish.
“We [figured] we were in for a tough game against Robert Morris, and yet we’re up 50-28 at halftime. Our guards, Mallory Johnson and Jordan Brandt, are both playing well, and [they] played especially well against Robert Morris — Jordan had 15 points and Mallory was solid at running the offense.”
The Cougars racked up 17 steals in their triumph over Trinity International and scored 39 of their points off Trojans turnovers. Stuut led the SXU charge by registering game-best totals of 22 points, 11 rebounds and five steals.
Broski added 12 points for the Cougars, McMahon had nine points and five rebounds, and redshirt freshman Sidney Prasse finished with nine points and four assists. All 12 SXU players who took the court landed in the scoring column. Complementing that potency was a Cougars defense that, in addition to the swipes, held Trinity International to a 32 percent accuracy rate from the field.
SXU was ahead by just a 7-2 margin six minutes into the contest, but it soon dashed the Trojans’ hopes for an upset. The Cougars were up 44-22 at intermission and then began the second half with a 15-2 surge to silence Trinity for good.
“Saturday was a fun type of game, where every player got into the box score,” Hallberg said. “We had several eight- and nine-point contributions. It was great to see a player like Megan McMahon, who had been injured early in the season, come off the bench and get eight points in just six minutes.
“We feel really good about the team right now. The distribution of points and the sharing of the ball are solid.”
SXU played its final home contest this past Wednesday against Roosevelt University and visits Trinity Christian College on Saturday. Hallberg expected stern competition in both games.
“We only beat Roosevelt by a couple of points the last time we played them,” he said. “And Trinity Christian was ahead of us with just 13 minutes left to play in our last meeting. To keep our hold on first place, we have to beat two teams that have given us a tough time this season.”
On Sunday, the CCAC coaches will meet at SXU to set up brackets for the conference tournament, which commences on Tuesday and ends on Saturday. The tournament champion will receive an automatic bid to the NAIA Division II national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.
“We could possibly wind up playing Cardinal Stritch or Purdue Calumet,” Hallberg said. “And if we face a team that we beat twice, it’s especially tough to beat that team a third time around.”
— Anthony Nasella
Robert Morris swapped frustration for elation when it met up with the Cougars last Wednesday at the Shannon Center.
When the teams clashed in an earlier CCAC contest, SXU not only defeated the Eagles, but did so in a fairly lopsided manner that created some discomfort among the latter’s athletes. Cougars coach Tom O’Malley noted at the time that Robert Morris players found themselves in somewhat unfamiliar territory, and their negative reactions reflected such.
The Eagles were also standing on shaky ground before the rematch, but for a different reason.
“They needed all the wins they could get,” O’Malley said. “If they did not beat us, they would probably have taken themselves out of [NAIA Division II] tournament consideration unless they won the conference tournament. They had 18 wins, and you probably need about 22 [to qualify].”
Given the circumstances, Robert Morris’ ability to issue payback to SXU wasn’t too surprising. What may have bothered O’Malley even more than his squad’s 82-76 loss, however, was its forgettable shooting display.
While the Eagles made good on 52 percent of their field-goal tries, the Cougars (24-4, 14-3) floundered. Although it launched 12 more shots than its foe, SXU hit three fewer baskets, which translated into a 38 percent success rate. The locals went 6-of-28 from 3-point range.
And compounding that situation was a continuation of it on Saturday. The Cougars managed to overcome another bout of inaccuracy well enough to down Trinity International University 80-72, but as O’Malley pointed out, the Trojans had succumbed to SXU by more than 20 points previously.
“We played down to a [lower] level on Saturday and we didn’t play particularly well on Wednesday,” O’Malley said. “Sometimes the [poor] shooting is a result of the other team playing pretty good defense, but I don’t think Robert Morris played particularly good defense against us, and I don’t think Trinity International did, either.
“I don’t remember us taking a really bad shot. When guys are taking shots they normally make, that’s what gets to me.
“I took a few shots myself when I played, so I know what it’s like [to labor at times], but it’s really disheartening. Shooting has not been a problem for us — we’re over 50 percent for the year and about 38 percent on 3-pointers — but we’ve got to figure out why we’re all of a sudden not shooting the ball well.”
The Cougars connected on 43 percent of their attempts versus the Trojans, which caused them to be locked in 10 ties with the hosts and trade the lead five times. Neither club ever led by more than single digits.
SXU was up 59-50 seven minutes into the second half, but TIU roared back with a 14-0 run fueled by eight points from Thomas Amrine, who included two 3-point baskets among his production. The Cougars unintentionally aided the Trojans’ rally with three turnovers and six missed shots.
The score was tied at 71-all with 4:17 remaining when 3s by Josh Mawhorr and Kyle Huppe finally put SXU in front for keeps. Huppe ended the day with four 3-pointers, part of a 17-point output. Brad Karp paced the Cougars with 32 points and nine rebounds.
Also pitching in for SXU were Tony Core (13 points, eight rebounds) and Michael Simpson (10 points, five assists, four steals). One of the Cougars’ regulars, Jack Krieger, sat out with a knee strain, but O’Malley didn’t cite that as the main reason SXU struggled to put away TIU.
“On Saturday, a lot of it had to do with missed opportunities,” he said. “We shot 43, 26 and 57 [percent] from two- [and] 3-[point territory] and the free-throw line, and we missed 18 free throws.”
Were the No. 5-ranked Cougars simply feeling the effects of being a season-long target for pretty much everybody on their schedule?
“You hope to say not,” O’Malley said, when asked about the fatigue factor. “Trinity had a pretty good crowd and was coming off a win after losing about 12 in a row, so they were up. And we were looking at a team we beat by 25 [before], so it was just a bit of a natural letdown.”
Robert Morris went with a smaller lineup than it had used previously against SXU and benefited from increased quickness, but the Eagles also harmed the Cougars in the paint.
“Their big guys accounted for about 43 points; ours had about 18,” O’Malley said. “They outplayed us on the interior.”
Robert Morris expunged an early 17-12 deficit with a 13-0 run that featured three layups from Cortney Bell, plus a layup, jumper and free throw by Maurice Williams. The Eagles held a nine-point edge at intermission.
Robert Morris kept SXU at arm’s length throughout the second half, although the Cougars did make things interesting near the end. Down by 11 with 2:08 remaining, SXU scored six quick points on Simpson’s three-point play and 3-point basket before ultimately falling short.
Simpson totaled 21 points and seven assists while being an able partner for Karp, who wound up with 30 points and eight rebounds.
The Cougars conclude their regular-season slate this week opposite Roosevelt University and Trinity Christian College. The Trolls recently suffered a one-point overtime setback to top-ranked Cardinal Stritch.
— Ken Karrson
SXU’s best basketball players are also very good students.
Brad Karp, the men’s team’s career scoring leader, and the women’s team’s junior duo of Morgan Stuut and Suzie Broski were all chosen as Capital One Academic All-Americans when announcements were made last week. The College Sports Information Directors of America was responsible for the selections.
Karp, a biology major who carries a 3.56 cumulative grade-point average, was tabbed for the College Division men’s team for the third season in a row and was named Team Member of the Year for the second time. The College Division consists of NAIA, Canadian and two-year institutions.
Karp became SXU’s career scoring leader earlier this season and currently owns team-best averages of 26.7 and 8.2 rebounds per game. He ranks fourth in NAIA Division II in scoring average, sixth in per-game steals (2.6) and eighth in field-goal percentage (61.4). Karp has been chosen as the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Week six times during the 2013-14 campaign.
“As excellent as Brad is as a basketball player, he is equally as impressive as a student and person,” Cougars coach Tom O’Malley said. “He excels at everything he works toward and is a great example for his teammates and for young athletes everywhere.
“This award is extra special because it combines and showcases his efforts both on the court and in the classroom. For Brad to earn this [first-team] achievement each of the last two seasons is a testament to his hard work and dedication.”
Stuut and Broski are both making their second appearances on the College Division women’s team. Broski, a second-team selection as a sophomore, is a biology (pre-health) major who boasts a perfect 4.0 GPA. Stuut was named to the third team a year ago.
On the court, Stuut is the Cougars’ per-game scoring (20.9 ppg.), rebounding (13.1) and assists (4.6) leader and has posted 20 double-doubles this season. She also recorded the women’s team’s first two triple-doubles. Broski is shooting a team-best 54 percent from the field while averaging 14.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest.
Stuut and Broski made SXU the only school in any collegiate division to have two players chosen for the first team.
“Suzie and Morgan are everything a coach dreams about having in a student-athlete,” Cougars coach Bob Hallberg said. “Their dedication, hard work and enthusiasm are channeled into the countless hours of preparation it takes to be successful, both on the basketball court and in the classroom.
“To have two players from the same school earn first-team honors for a national award of this caliber is quite an accomplishment. We are so proud of both of them because they reflect the type of student-athlete that every school strives to have.”
Sophomore middle blocker Sam Kull recorded seven kills and four total blocks — including three solos — but the Cougars still fell short against Carthage College Saturday afternoon in nonconference action in Kenosha, Wis.
SXU (1-10) dropped the match in straight sets, 25-14, 25-21 and 25-13. The Cougars struggled offensively, totaling just 20 team kills while making that same number of attacking errors.
Freshman outside hitter Sean Barry had six kills for SXU, while freshman setter Moises Lopez (Oak Lawn) distributed 19 assists. Senior outside hitter Justin Cousin scooped up a team-best eight digs in the match.
The Cougars host Robert Morris University in a Great Lakes Division match on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Shannon Center.
Senior middle blocker J.T. O’Connell (Brother Rice) and Kull combined for 19 kills, five service aces and eight total blocks last Tuesday, but that wasn’t enough to save the Cougars against No. 10-ranked Cardinal Stritch University. The Wolves survived a five-set battle and recorded a 22-25, 25-19, 25-16, 22-25, 15-6 victory at the Shannon Center.
SXU looked to have the momentum after surging late in the fourth game to force the decisive fifth set, but Stritch jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead in the final game and never looked back.
O’Connell amassed 10 kills and four block assists in the match, while Kull added nine kills, five aces and four total blocks. Barry (11 kills) and Cousin (10) were also strong along the net, while Lopez had team-best totals of 35 assists and 11 digs.
Senior middle hitter Noah Mader had a match-high 15 kills on for the Wolves.
Cougars coach Mike Feminis continued to strengthen his 2014 roster with the recent signing of two more prep players from Chicago-area schools. Joining SXU’s program in the fall will be Lemont High School punter Joe Bailey and St. Rita wide receiver Jack Ladd.
“Joe should be our punter for the next four years,” Feminis said. “He’s got a really nice leg and certainly fills the need we have at the punter position.
“Jack got overshadowed a little bit because his team had some great skill players, [but] he’s a tall, smooth athlete and the third Ladd to come play for us. We’re happy to have Joe and Jack in the program.”